While cinema going still isn’t exactly back to normal, we have still seen our fair share of blockbusters this year. Still, even with these big budget spectacles, one of the films I have been most looking forward to this year has been the decidedly smaller scale The Last Mercenary. Sure, the likes of F9: The Fast Saga (2021) and Black Widow (2021) may feature state of the art CGI and grand scale destruction; they don’t have the one thing The Last Mercenary has: Jean Claude Van Damme.
I doubt any martial arts action fan that grew up on a diet of Bloodsport (1987), Kickboxer (1989) and Double Impact (1990) wouldn’t be excited to see how Van Damme would fare in his latest adventure. Released recently on Netflix, The Last Mercenary is one of Van Damme’s more polished efforts of late with decent production values, an on form cast and some decent action, albeit heavily stunt doubled.
However, those jonesing for a return to Van Damme’s glory days will be sadly disappointed as the film is primarily a comedy, with the action coming secondary. This has more in common with his recent television show Jean Claude Van Johnson (2018) than the likes of Universal Soldier (1991) or Hard Target (1993).
Van Damme plays ex secret service operative Richard Brumère aka The Mist. Since the birth of his son 25 years ago he has been working as a mercenary, becoming legendary in his field. He has to return to France when his son Archibald (Samir Decazza) is incorrectly implicated in an arms and drug trafficking case.
The Mist must first rescue his son before trying to clear his name, all the time hoping that somehow he and Archibald will be able to reconcile their differences. Richard must also put a stop to the real arms traffickers before they cause a global catastrophe.
I was aware of director David Charhon from his work on the buddy cop film The Other Side of the Tracks (2012), so I at least knew he could handle an action comedy. However, like that film The Last Mercenary has some of the same issues. While I understand that the film is a comedy, a lot of the humour misses the mark, with some of the characters incessant mugging for the camera becoming tiresome.
Still, I did find myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Van Damme has great fun sending up his image, with his plethora of ridiculous disguises being a highlight. There is also a number of call backs to his back catalogue. I would argue that no Van Damme fan will be able to stifle a smile when he breaks out with the same dance moves he famously used in Kickboxer.
He gives a suitably relaxed performance, clearly more comfortable in delivering dialogue in his native tongue. He gets to show off his trademark moves on a number of occasions. As mentioned, during some of the action it is obvious that he is stunt doubled but for the most part the action is competently staged. The stand out is a fight within a bath house changing room which has Van Damme taking on numerous opponents whilst sporting a ridiculous wig.
As great as Van Damme is, not all of his co-stars are able to match him. This is more to do with their characters rather than their actual acting ability. While Assa Sylla and Alban Ivanov support him well as part of his new team, Samir Decazza who plays his son Archibald is one of the more annoying characters I have had to put up with in a while. He’s one of them cowardly types who blame his father for everything that has gone on his life.
What is more embarrassing is the fact that he is 25 and not a child, although you wouldn’t know this by how he acts. Thankfully as the film progresses he starts to develop more and become less tiresome. Still, I would have liked just once for Van Damme to give him a slap although he does at least put him in his place during an affecting scene.
In terms of the action, not all of it is of the fighting variety with an impressive car chase being thrown in for good measure. I was pleased to see that the vehicle action was carried out by David Julienne, grandson of the famed Remy Julienne who created some of the best car chases of all time. Any James Bond fan will no doubt be aware of his work, with the likes of The Living Daylights (1987), License to Kill (1989) and Goldeneye (1994) featuring some of his best work.
Remy Julienne had even worked on a number of Van Damme’s previous movies, most memorably in Ringo Lam’s underrated Maximum Risk (1998) where he co-ordinated the action packed finale. Now the car chase isn’t on par with those I’ve mentioned but it is still well staged and was nice to see how David Julienne is continuing the family legacy.
It is clear The Last Mercenary had more of a budget than some of Van Damme’s previous DTV efforts like Black Water (2018) and We Die Young (2020). This is mostly apparent in how good the film looks, with the production employing the skills of Luc Besson’s cinematographer of choice, Thierry Arbogast.
Additionally unlike typical DTV fare and its use of no name artists on the soundtrack, The Last Mercenary is filled with recognisable songs from the likes of Blondie and Gorgio Moroder, with tracks from the Scarface (1983) soundtrack playing quite a humorous part in proceedings.
Overall, the film is a fun bit of fluff that is somewhat hit and miss in terms of quality. Even so it is a definite watch for any Van Damme fan. I would urge viewers to go in with an open mind as there is still enough of that old Van Damme magic to keep you entertained.
I’m interested to see where Van Damme goes from here. With The Last Mercenary being a Netflix production there is potential that it could be viewed by a wider audience than the usual DTV releases he has been starring in. I hope the film proves enough of a success for Netflix to at least look at the possibility of producing another feature, hopefully one more in line with his actioners of old, although at this point in his career I would even be happy to see him return in a sequel to The Last Mercenary.
On a side note, any fans of David Charhon’s earlier movie The Other Side of the Tracks may be interested in knowing that Netflix are already in production on a sequel to the hit comedy. Original stars Omar Sy and Laurent Lafitte are returning but unfortunately for Charhon he has been replaced by action director Louis Leterrier. Still I’m sure it will be able to match if not improve on the original.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 2.5/5 Overall: 3/5