The action movies of the 80’s and early 90’s had a goofy and over-the-top style all their own. During my teen years and early twenties I couldn’t get enough of them. At the top of the food chain were the marquee names Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Just a step below were a handful of others including the martial artist known as The Muscles from Brussels (yes kids, that’s what some called him) Jean-Claude Van Damme.
For several years Van Damme was a big box office draw, but he fell out of the mainstream once the cinema landscape began its shift away from the machismo-infused romps that made him and others famous. Still, Van Damme has continued to make movies, releasing mostly straight-to-DVD action flicks every year since 2001. His latest film is “The Last Mercenary”, a French action-comedy from Netflix Studios.
“The Last Mercenary” is a weird experience. At times it’s a painfully bland and erratically edited genre blend that bounces here to there with no real sense of flow. But then you see a self-deprecating JVD, his hair a little thinner and his wrinkles a little deeper. You see him joyously riffing on his past action star persona (even his infamous bad dancing). You watch him poke fun of his own enigmatic up-and-down movie career. Suddenly you can’t help but smile.
The film is directed by David Charhon and co-written by Charhon and Ismael Sy Savane. Their story puts the 60-year-old JVD in the role of the near mythical mercenary Richard Brumère aka “The Mist”. He comes out of seclusion after learning that the French government has accused his dim dope-peddling son Archibald (Samir Decazza) of being a wanted arms dealer named Simyon.
The movie features an off-beat blend of action and comedy that’s built around a fairly predictable father/son reconciliation. Richard left his son and late wife to protect them from the violence that comes with his job. Archibald feels his father abandoned him, and his mother’s death only deepened those wounds. There are occasional moments of heart where this fractured relationship gets some attention. But it always feels secondary to getting a laugh.
In order to protect Archibald from the real Simyon (wildly overplayed by Nassim Lyes) and to root out the corrupt government officials working to keep Simyon’s identity concealed, Richard forms a team of local outcasts to help him. Dalila (Assa Sylla) and her brother Momo (Djimo) make for good comic sidekicks while Alexandre (Alban Ivanov), who was booted from the French Ministry for getting too close to the truth, is the movie’s clown – occasionally funny but way too over-the-top.
It’s fun watching JVD ham it up, whether he’s winking at a poster of his breakout movie “Bloodsport” or donning goofy disguises reminiscent of Peter Sellers’ bumbling Inspector Clouseau. But even that eventually wears thin leaving us with a haphazard movie that has more in common with a hyperactive cartoon. The humor ranges from silly to cringe-worthy with the worse being this running gag about Richard’s ‘ladies man’ status. Meanwhile the skittish editing only emphasizes the story’s overall clunkiness. And JVD’s best (and silliest) efforts can’t quite make up for it.