You know sometimes, against all logic things just end up working shockingly well…
We wouldn’t blame you if you read the plot line for The Last Mercenary which is out today on Netflix and rolled your eyes and clicked over to something else…but here’s the thing. You’d be wrong.
This is film isn’t trying to be high art or even something in the realm of a high octane action movie, what it is though is a credible satire of those genres (in the vein of the OSS 117 films) with an action star who is smart enough to give a sly wink to the camera to know that he’s taking us on a ride that we may not have expected.
Richard Brumère (Jean Claude Van Damme), aka “La Brume” (“The Mist”), a former French secret service special agent turned mercenary, is back in the saddle as the immunity he was granted 25 years earlier for his son Archibald is lifted. A mob operation threatens Archibald’s life. To save him, Richard will have to reach out to his old contacts, join forces with a bunch of reckless youngsters from the projects and an offbeat bureaucrat – but mostly find the courage to let Archibald know he’s his father.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is satire of the highest order because of course it’s French. The Last Mercenary borrows from so many of the beats across a myriad of action movies and gives them a really healthy but not overt skewering. It’s the French way of preparing an ass kicking comedy and it works.
Co-Writer/Director David Charhon has a healthy track record of working in the genre and he knows how to work the action comedy beats pretty well from top to bottom. We’ll grant that it tries a little too hard at times to masquerade itself as a genuine spy thriller action movie, but by the end of the second act it drops the pretence and lets us settle into Van Damme’s character trying to do right by not only the world in general but by his estranged son.
The action is well staged and knows when to be slapstick and when to be bone crunching so we don’t get too much of one or the other at any given time and the narrative has real balance to it allowing for some genuine character moments (from some unexpected places) as well as just gag after gag. Admittedly it all could have been trimmed down a little bit as it all could have unfolded in a neat and tidy 95 minutes rather then it’s actual 110 minute running time, but that’s just a nitpicky point. This was surprisingly fun to watch thanks to a genuinely and unexpectedly solid performance from the ‘Muscles From Brussels’ himself.
I’ll be the first to admit that Van Damme has basically passed his prime as a viable action star, but when you put him in material where he can have a little fun and not be super serious all the time, he actually ends up shining. He’s actually ‘acting’ in this one, as his comedic timing is well above average and his willingness to even have a laugh at his own expense will delight lifelong fans of this action star. The dynamic between Van Damme and his son (played by Samir Decazza) and as they go along this road picking up their very own motley crew to save Archibald’s life and the world ends up being a hell of a lot of fun.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it’s all exceptionally executed and keeps us in the moment, even on those occasional blips in the narrative where we’re tempted to roll our eyes it all.
In many ways, The Last Mercenary is very much a hallmark of the French action satire sub-genre (if that’s actually a thing) where you’re walking a very fine line between serious and ridiculous and thanks to a shockingly good performance from Van Damme it makes for a fun night in if you’re looking for something that’s familiar but not all at the same time.