Review: ‘The Last Mercenary’ misses the mark

Action movies aren’t a genre that has ever let the age of their stars get in the way of a good time. If you do things right, you can have aged men play all kinds of characters. The Last Mercenary seems intent on pushing that idea to the limit by casting a 60-year-old Jean-Claude Van Damme as a mysterious spy returned from the cold to rescue his wayward son.

It also seems intent on being as over the top silly as it can be, with Van Damme’s character –dubbed “The Mist” because it’s there, but you can’t touch it– being a master of disguise, a master of proverbs, and hyper-competent at basically everything while also making all the most ridiculous choices.

Does it work though? Well… no, not really.

Everything in the film is dialled up to eleven, which means there is little to no subtlety to the overcomplicated plot or the jokes. In the latter case, they are delivered with the force of a sledgehammer, and they land with a thud instead of a bang almost every time. There are twists and turns and double-crosses and flashbacks to multiple time periods in the former, and while it’s not difficult to follow, it just all feels a bit… much.

It all has the potential to work though. Van Damme is surrounded by some funny people and some gifted performers, but the film makes a choice to go as silly as possible, and none of it does, except for Assa Sylla and Éric Judor, who seem to understand what kind of movie they are in a little better, and deliver.

Let’s be honest here for a moment though, a big part of the issue is Van Damme himself. At 60 years old, he seems to have lost a little of his spryness, and in all of the big fight scenes, his is clearly being doubled. This wouldn’t be a huge issue, but it’s just so… obvious.

That’s not the real problem, though, which is that he doesn’t really seem to have his heart in the rest of the performance, either. His line delivery is flat, and his face spends most of its time with just one expression which resembles a scowl.

It sucks to write like this because I genuinely like Van Damme as a performer, but there’s not much this movie has going for it. Of course, it’s possible that something is lost in translation here, that the French comedic sensibilities don’t work here –or even just for me– but either way, I didn’t connect with it.

The Last Mercenary will premiere on Netflix on Friday, July 30th.


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