The Last Mercenary
On a busy week professionally, allow me to get out a shorter review than usual for a recent Netflix addition.
Famed mercenary Richard Brumere (Jean Claude Van Damme) better known as “the Mist” has been off the grid for years following a disastrous operation in Africa. He finds himself forced to return to France when Archibald (Samir Decazza), the son he left behind years ago, becomes the accidental target of authorities following an identity theft. Assembling an unlikely group of politicians, criminals and activists to aid him, Brumere delves into a wide-ranging conspiracy, as he also tires to connect with his son.
Ah, Jean Claude Van Damme, who for the sake of brevity I will now use the accepted acronym for going forward. Here’s a guy who really does not know when to say quit, having continued to bring out his own kick-heavy brand of action movies somewhat consistently since the relative height of his heyday in the 1980’s and 90’s. The Last Mercenary constitutes the latest step in a partial renaissance of that career, in an attempt to combine both the kick-heavy action with something that approaches a general degree of parody: JCVD has long since passed the point it seems where he is uncomfortable poking a bit of fun at himself, and he does plenty of that here.
There’s a slapstick element to The Last Mercenary that is startlingly obvious right from the get go, and never lets up throughout the whole thing (personal favourite: a police sketch of JCVD’s character taken from a witness ends up as Homer Simpson). The film is deadset on not taking itself too seriously, as evidenced by the extensive and bizarre series of disguises that JCVD’s titular character employs, a pole-dancing French Minister, an old nemesis who rages continually about Richard sleeping with his wife and a bad guy who is openly aping Scarface to the point that he is actually playing the move behind him in certain scenes. Your ability to enjoy the movie will be dependent on your tolerance for such things, and a recognition from the off that The Last Mercenary, despite a title that perhaps promises something that leans towards the “action” part of “action-comedy” is for laughs primarily.
It’s more about the laughs here, and in fairness to JCVD and the cast he has helped assemble he leans into it. Van Damme’s confidence and easy dignity radiates anytime he is onscreen, even when he refers to a Bloodsport poster featuring himself as evidence of a “real man”. He’s not bad at deadpan reactions to ridiculous situations, and I find that a much more attractive part of The Last Mercenary than the sentimentality that sees us follow his efforts to be a better dad to the son he doesn’t really know. Decazza is decent too as that son, the kind of snowflake millennial that is almost as much of a parody of the concept as Van Damme is of himself in this one. The two help to anchor a film that delivers some zany action sequences – one featuring a car that JCVD has to drive from the passenger seat is a real stand-out, as is a towel-based showdown in a gym locker-room – with appropriate regularity, but which otherwise maybe loses itself in a plot that has no need to be as complex as it is. John le Carre this is not.
At times it becomes a little too silly, which does not align well with the aforementioned efforts to be some manner of well-thought out spy thriller, but one cannot hold it too much against Van Damme. He’s at the perfect time for this kind of project, and his own confidence in making it come to life is palpable. For many audiences this is going to be a dismissable piece of Eurotrash that has notions of being better than it is, but for me it was a mildly diverting blend of spy spoof, stupid chases and JCVD kicking people in the face. I don’t suppose you can really ask for much more than that. Recommended.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).