Review by David Baldwin
Every time I see or hear the name Jean-Claude Van Damme, I chuckle to myself. I did not gravitate to his work nearly as much as I should have growing up in the 90s, but the work of his I did watch (specifically the ludicrous Die Hard riff, Sudden Death) was a whole lot of fun. Although he was a total blast to watch in more recent fare like JCVD and The Expendables 2 — where he hammed it up as the lead villain — he has not been nearly as prevalent or visible in the ensuing years trying his best to remain relevant. The same cannot be said for a few of his 90s competitors, but then the ‘Muscles from Brussels’ was never as wildly popular as some of those guys.
Which is a shame, since he’s an actual fighter and could probably kick the shit out of all of them (or at least look super cool doing the splits during the fight in a way literally no other man on Earth can). And he has one of the best last names for an actor ever.
I mention all of this because The Last Mercenary is not so much a return to form as much as it is a deliberately over-the-top play on those ridiculous 90s action thrillers. Even in saying that, it’s more of a parody of those kinds of movies than an actual proper entry in the genre. Van Damme plays Richard Brumère (aka ‘The Mist’), a legendary secret service operative who vanished into thin air nearly three decades ago. When his son Archi (Samir Decazza) is falsely accused of being an arms dealer and drug trafficker, Brumère comes out of hiding to protect him and help clear his name, all while evading the French authorities who desperately want to take him into custody.
That may all sound straight forward yet The Last Mercenary feels anything but. It jumps around chaotically in many scenes, attempting to be as stylish as possible at every turn. One fast paced car chase even uses “Push It To The Limit” from the Scarface soundtrack to score the action (and then proceeds to turn the person behind the wheel into someone obsessed with a little too obsessed with emulating Tony Montana). Sadly, many of these sequences end up feeling like a total mess, which extends into some of the action and intrigue that gets set up within them. The Last Mercenary has plenty of juicy double crosses and shady government secrets lying beneath the surface, but the editing and style of the film make a lot of trouble for the creative team to navigate around them. The script and inconsistent tone suggest that everyone behind the scenes of The Last Mercenary took great joy throwing different ideas and jokes at the screen, hoping at least some of them would stick. And while that is certainly one way of putting together a film, the reality is that it makes for an arduous journey for the viewer that drags out too long and is challenging to follow.
Saying The Last Mercenary takes itself seriously is a bit of a stretch. Thankfully everyone on screen is in on the joke and acts accordingly. Each character gets a fun moment and no one really stands head over heels above anyone else. Alban Ivanov gets to be especially silly as Alexandre Lazare, the Minister of Foreign Affairs who gets dragged in way over his head after putting events into motion. If anyone is completely in tune with the ridiculous material here, it’s him. Decazza is good in small doses, but never really gets away from just reacting to the mayhem in front of him. You didn’t come to read about the supporting cast though — you want to hear about Van Damme. For fans and non-fans, it’s an entertaining performance that is filled to the brim with nostalgia. He kicks. He does the splits. He dances. Anything you hope he does, he finds time to do. He even gets to wear outrageous disguises that are bound to elicit a few chuckles. He does not move the same way he used to, and it is obvious just how much lively spirit he still has. The film might be a letdown, but Van Damme is not.
The Last Mercenary is a totally ridiculous romp indebted to 80s and 90s action thrillers that is more of a parody of those types of films than anything else. There are some nostalgic moments of fun peppered throughout, but it is a bit of a mess style and editing wise, and is a bit of a challenge to follow at times. Once things start coming together, the film benefits from its clear narrative — until someone else gets double crossed. The cast is having a good time despite this, and Van Damme is having the time of his life. I was hoping for more, but it manages to be just entertaining enough for a rainy day watch.
The Last Mercenary streams on Netflix starting Friday, July 30, 2021.