The Last Mercenary is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s latest action-comedy flick. Emphasis on the comedy this time around. French director, David Charhon, brings a taste of his home country to Netflix in this ’80s-inspired film which obviously attempts to mirror the waning career of the once prolific martial arts action star.
What the film lacks in plot and character development, it makes up for in the expertly executed cinematography and excellent performances. It’s easy to get a little lost early in the film as it juggles several ensembles of characters that fit only loosely together. However, each actor brought something special to the screen that made it a fun experience from start to finish.
The Last Mercenary is available to stream now on Netflix.
Story – A Convoluted Ride
Our star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, plays a legendary retired French special agent who, since the ’90s, has operated as a ghost mercenary all across the world. He’s the best of the best. We’ve seen it before, but it never really gets old. There’s a clear parallel here with the actual career of Van Damme who mostly fell out of prominence in the mid-90s, only to return to regular performances about a decade later.
As a condition of Brumére’s retirement, his infant son is given perks by the French government, but Brumére can never be a father to him. That is, until 25 years later when a Scarface-obsessed drug trafficker and a corrupt politician steal his son’s identity to take advantage of the criminal immunity he was given. One thing leads to another and Brumére’s son is mistaken for the drug trafficker and the police are after him.
This all filters through a rotating set of disconnected characters that left me a little overwhelmed. In order to convey the convoluted plot, three different groups of characters with three different motivations scheme towards their desired outcomes. There are entirely too many characters to follow, and I found that I couldn’t remember everyone’s name or role from scene to scene. Eventually, once all the exposition is finally laid out about halfway into the film, we can focus on the main group of protags and antags. At this point, things at least become a little more straight forward, although not very original.
This is not the strong point of the movie. The plot seems mashed together into something usable in a pinch in order to deliver the much more satisfying comedic performances. The first half left many characters as expositional mouthpieces that offered little to the film other than building Brumére’s mystique.
Characters and Performance – Strong Comedic Ensemble
First of all, there are a lot of characters to follow in this movie. There are three primary groups that overlap as the plot progresses, and it’s a little overwhelming. The main ensemble is made up of five protagonists lead by Richard Brumére and his son, Archibald AI Mahmoud played by Samir Decazza. Add to that, two of Archie’s friends and the neurotic bureaucrat pulled along for the ride. Then you have the two antagonist drug traffickers on one side and the French government on the other, both closing in on innocent Archie and his deadly father.
While the characters might be stretched too thin and written like spy/crime movie cookie cutters, the actors’ performances shine through at every turn. They all had a strong comedic instinct that pulled the clunky dialogue up in almost every scene. Maybe it was just their French attitude, but the deadpan delivery of every line felt consistently spot on.
Pacing and Editing – Two Sides of the Same Coin
The first act of the movie is seriously weighed down by the sheer number of characters that all need an introduction. This leads to a breakdown of flow as we jump from group to group in choppy, disconnected sections. It leaves the viewer a little overwhelmed and uninterested in each individual character. Eventually, though, it does slow down and finds a decent rhythm to fall into, but that initial bit is jarring for sure.
There seem to be two entirely different levels of editing in The Last Mercenary: competent dialogue editing and less competent action editing. When characters are trading quips and well-timed jokes, the cuts do a great job of highlighting the actor’s natural comedic ability and timing. Unfortunately, many of the action scenes seem jumpy and disjointed, cutting just where you want it to hold for a Van Damme high kick to land. Granted, this may be more to spare the ageing martial artist’s pride, as he clearly isn’t as ferocious as he used to be. That being said, there’s little excuse for the lack of visual continuity in the car chase scenes.
Cinematography and Sound – Thierry: The Professional
This is clearly where Netflix spent their time and money. Thierry Arbogast is the cinematographer for The Last Mercenary. You may recognize his captivating style from Luc Besson’s films The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional, and Lucy. Thierry is a veteran cinematographer with an impressive list of credits you can see on his IMDb page. His saturated colors, unique use of camera angles and movement are all on display in The Last Mercenary. This was most prevalent in the car chase scene. Even though, as I mentioned before, the editing of the chase scene was not perfect, the cinematography and camera work was expertly executed and added to the commotion and excitement.
Much like the way he did in The Fifth Element, another action movie heavy with comedy, Arbogast used close-ups and sweeping movements to accentuate the impact Van Damme and his comedic ensemble’s exaggerated performances. This actually worked in tandem with the skilled dialogue editing to make the actors shine as much as possible.
The use of sound and Foley had the same effect. During the fight scenes, a unique spread of sound effects added to the silliness of the whole movie. They didn’t just use run-of-the-mill smack and crash sounds as stuntmen hit each other and smashed through breakaway furniture. There were what sounded like video game or pinball machine sounds that added nicely to the whole tone of the film. It was a strong choice that had a satisfying impact on the experience.