A legendary secret agent forced to take on a last, very personal, mission. I think every action fan has seen plenty of films with that plot. The Last Mercenary knows that its star Jean-Claude Van Damme has been in a few of them, most recently Pound of Flesh. Director David Charhon (On the Other Side of the Tracks) and co-writer Ismaël Sy Savané (Goal of the Dead) know that too and play it for laughs as well as thrills. Can they breathe some life into this plot? And does The Muscles from Brussels still have what it takes to carry off the part?
Richard Brumére (Jean-Claude Van Damme, The Bouncer, We Die Young) was a legend in his time. He was known as “The Mist” for his ability to appear out of nowhere and vanish after the job was done. Abandoned after the disastrous Mission Cup and Ball he became a mercenary and faded out of sight.
Now, twenty-five years later he’s back. Archie (Samir Decazza), the son he’s never known, has been framed for drug and weapons smuggling. And he’s the only one who can get to the bottom of it. With a little help from a team that consists of Archie, his friend Dalila (Assa Sylla, Mortel), her brother Momo (Djimo) and a hapless government official Alexandre (Alban Ivanov, Walter).
Casting an action hero whose career has become low profile as a man of action who has dropped off the radar is an inspired meta move. The Last Mercenary’s flashbacks, featuring Van Damme in a wig and youthful makeup are funny. and there are several good laughs to be had from people’s memories and stories of Brumére back in the day. The time he escaped by biting through a padlock or killing a rhinoceros with his bare hands. As we’ve seen with both JCVD and Jean-Claude Van Johnson, Van Damme has no problem poking fun at his image, and he seems to be in on the joke here.
Unfortunately, much of the film’s humour falls to the level of an out-of-shape man in his underwear riding a scooter through downtown Paris. Someone with a swollen jaw and tongue trying to talk. Or a villain, Simyon (Nassim Lyes, Made in France), who emulates Scarface’s Tony Montana to an absurd degree.
The Last Mercenary works better as an action film. The plot involves Brumére clearing his son’s name by taking down the actual dealer and his government associates before they can make off with a top-secret weapon. This allows for car chases, shootouts and, of course, plenty of fights.
When we first see Brumére he’s doing the splits in a skylight before dropping, Batman style on a pair of goons. But he’s in shadow, as though it’s a stunt double. The same with several fight scenes where he has his back to the camera. In other scenes, however, it certainly looks like he’s doing his own fighting.
At sixty-two it’s perfectly understandable if he can’t move like he used to, but usually, his scenes are edited better. It almost feels like Charhon is doing it intentionally, extending The Last Mercenary’s comparison between the ageing actor and his ageing character. It would fit right in with his reaction to seeing a poster from Bloodsport, the film that launched his career back in 1988.
The Last Mercenary, original title Le dernier mercenaire, is a French film and we get Miou-Miou (Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, Dog Day) and Valérie Kaprisky (Breathless, A Place Among the Living) in supporting roles. Unfortunately, it also means there’s some rather obvious dubbing as well.
Despite running a bit too long at an hour and fifty minutes, The Last Mercenary is an enjoyable film. It’s not a return to Van Damme’s prime, but it is better than a lot of direct to VOD action films.
The Last Mercenary is currently available on Netflix.