Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Mercenary for Justice (2006)

While his fellow mercenaries prefer camouflage,
Seagal opts for a more slimming black.

Surprisingly (or not, if you read the title of the film) Seagal isn't playing an ex-CIA agent this time but a mercenary named John Seeger. Someone makes sure to mention that he is the most decorated veteran of the Gulf War, so at least he's ex-something. He has been convinced by his buddy Radio Jones (who is the team's comms expert, I shit you not) to take on a mission liberating a small island nation from the French. While they battle the Frenchies (for justice), another group of racist South African mercenaries (not for justice) have kidnapped the French Ambassador and his family.

Both groups have been hired by, as some subtitles helpfully point out, "CIA Dirty Deeds Man" Dresham (Luke Goss) and "Black Opps[sic] Producer" Chapel (Roger Guenveur Smith). They are both evil. Radio Jones decides to make an impassioned speech in the middle of a firefight, which means he gets perforated by gunfire. He asks Seagal to take care of his wife and kid right before he dies. Meanwhile, the racist mercenaries decide to blow their hostages sky high, I guess because they are assholes. This steams Seagal, because he is pro-justice.

When he gets back to the US, Seagal visits Radio's widow and son, and before long they've been kidnapped by Chapel who wants to use Seagal in One Last Mission. He and the South African mercenaries from earlier are given four days to break some billionaire arms dealer's son out of a South African prison. Of course, Seagal is one step ahead, and with the help of his three fellow mercenaries for justice (his ex-girlfriend Maxine, a fellow Detroit native named Bulldog and some hacker) a complicated and fairly ridiculous plan unfolds.

I won't try to explain it here, partially because I don't want to spoil it, but mostly because it makes no fucking sense. Basically it involves stealing millions of dollars from a bank vault while killing a whole lot of cops and security guards... for justice! It ends with a pile of dead bodies and the billionaire arms dealer, his son and Chapel sent off to jail. I thought the movie was going to end right here, but we were nowhere near the magical 88 minute mark, and Seagal hadn't rescued Radio's family or killed Dresham yet.

After a pointless battle at a lighthouse, they head off to the mansion where Radio's widow and son are being help captive. Gunfire ensues. Seagal lets Dresham drive away at first, but once his buddies arrive to hear his zinger he says "I always thought he had an explosive personality" before detonating the car-bomb he had planted. Fetch me some bandages, for I fear my sides may have split! He tops it off by pointing out "I said 'had'". I hope this is the first of many Seagal quips that make reference to grammatical tenses (for the next one my money's on the pluperfect progressive).

Seagal plays a slightly different character than usual: A bit more of a jerk and slightly less than invincible (he never gets injured of course, but there are points where you think it might be a possibility). He doesn't even don his trademark leather trenchcoat until the very end of the film. Like most of his recent films, Seagal isn't involved in a lot of the action and unfortunately what he is in is mainly riding around in big black Jeeps and shooting machine guns rather than snapping wrists. A few necks do get broken, but I've gotta say, the people in this film have some pretty brittle bones. A mild 60 degree turn and their vertebrae snap like twigs. Drink your milk, kids!

This is the second team-up between director Don E. FauntLeRoy and Seagal after 2005's Today You Die and title-wise, I think this film is definitely a step down. Apparently it was originally called Repentance, then Mercenary, then finally Mercenary for Justice. I think I would have called it Hard for Justice (just imagine the trailer: "Steven Seagal is Hard for Justice"). The film looks a hell of a lot better than most Direct-to-Video films, especially the battle at the beginning (FauntLeRoy must know this because it goes on for 20 minutes). According to the special features, FauntLeRoy watched Saving Private Ryan and Blackhawk Down over and over in order to properly rip them off. Seagal is as wooden as ever, but at least he delivers his own lines and his co-stars are pretty good. Roger Guenveur Smith gives an utterly ludicrous performance as the kind of evil CIA agent that always crops up in a Seagal film. He hisses and growls and overly enunciates every word, it's hilarious. I think he was supposed to be South African, but I couldn't tell for sure.

All in all, I've seen worse Direct-to-Video Steven Seagal films (which is probably something you shouldn't admit to in public). It looks like Seagal was present for more than a day of shooting, which is as good as a measure of quality as you're going to get with these kind of films. These days Seagal does barely anything except act, which sucks because he can't. I'm just waiting for them to just cut out the middle man (ie Seagal) and have a double do everything. It might even be an improvement.

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