(Original Publication Date: March 3rd, 2018) By: John M Jerva
Review: BATTLE DRONE
Starring: Louis Mandylor, Dominique Swain, Daniel Southworth, Natassia Malthe, Oleg Taktarov, Jason Earles, Richard Alan Reid and Michael Pare
Directed By: Mitch Gould
Louis Mandylor is a hardworking man with films like Escape from Ensenada and Larceny also starring Dolph Lundgren out as we speak. The versatile actor also can be seen in the upcoming highly anticipated action-thriller The Debt Collector from director Jesse V. Johnson which teams him up with action star Scott Adkins. Mandylor isn’t done there however as Netflix has just unveiled the new sci-fi action pic Battle Drone (also called Battle Of the Drones) which sees Mandylor playing a bad ass, unapologetic merc who must go up against an army of unstoppable killing machines. The film knows what it is and if you can get past its flaws, you might enjoy it what it has to offer.
I have to admit, I really didn’t know much about this film and what I did know came from viewing its iMDB page. It literally came out of nowhere as Netflix premiered it on their service as of March 1st. There was no trailer or any kind of advertising for the film whatsoever, so I was literally going in blind which suited me just fine. What I got was a sci-fi action film in the vein of Predator and The Terminator with some decent action and enjoyable characters that you, for the most part, become vested in. Battle Drone is a nice little surprise, and if you go in with the right mindset then you might have some fun with it.
In the pic, Mandylor portrays Vincent Rekker who was once a captain in the United States military but when his country betrayed him, Rekker took his special skills to the private sector and became a mercenary where he assembled an elite crew to do secret jobs that no one wants to talk about. They are, of course expendable, so if they ever get caught, it would not be a good thing. Enter Karl Kess, played by the great Michael Pare. He is an arms dealer, but he likes to think of himself as a diplomat and with a coup forming in Europe, the US wants to back rebels trying to free the country. Kess wants Rekker to travel to Chernobyl where a secret cache of weapons is being stored which could be used to help the rebels. Rekker at first is skeptical but he agrees, and he and his team of daredevils set off for the vacation spot with a unit of CIA chaperones led by Alexandra Hayes played Dominique Swain who doesn’t like Rekker very much. Once there, Rekker and his team discover that they have not only been betrayed but they now must fight for their lives against an army of unstoppable killing machines who want nothing more than to eliminate all of them with some extreme prejudice.
Battle Drone comes to us from stuntman turned director Mitch Gould who is an expert stunt professional in the industry with films like the genre classic US SEALs 2: The Ultimate Force, Ultaviolet and The Rundown as just some of his credentials in his years of experience. Gould is also known for helming the 2009 film Hellbinders which starred Ray Park. Battle Drone has been a long going production which happens with some of these smaller films and having started production in 2013, the film is finally finished, and Netflix has picked it up for its audience as they try to offer more to their members as the streaming wars heat up. Gould does know what the audience wants for the most part, and he certainly doesn’t make anything boring. Gould, coming from the stuntman background, does help with the physical aspects of the movie and there are some pretty impressive stunts.
Mandylor’s elite unit consists of Natassia Malthe (Bloodrayne 2) as Valkyrie, Jason Earles as Dax, Richard Alan Reid as Kyle Blackwood, real life UFC and Sambo champion Oleg Taktarov as Grigori Romanov and Daniel Southworth, who starred with Gould in US SEALs 2, as Shiro. Southworth, an accomplished martial artist, on screen fighter and stunt professional, serves as the film’s fight director as well. The rest of the cast includes Swain, Pare, Steve Pound and Robert Reynolds as General Callahan. A few of the characters do come off as comic bookish but I believe this was intentional as this movie isn’t taking itself seriously.
What makes Battle Drone a guilty pleasure in spite of the usual suspect in flaws is that it sets the bar high and proceeds to use the running time to try and catapult and reach it. Like I stated earlier, it takes its cues from Terminator and Predator and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it does it with a wink and a nudge. The film uses the tried-and-true concept of bullet time which became successful when introduced in The Matrix films, and this lends some excitement throughout. The film does open with a decent action sequence which shows off Mandylor and his crew and after some time to introduce characters and establish plot, it’s off to the races because the film never really lets up on the gas pedal. Southworth’s choreography is, for the most part, solid and I will be looking forward to what he has to offer in the future as he is one talent that needs to be more of a household name.
The synthetic androids that are the main antagonist of the film are presented well and they are truly a force to be reckon with. They look pretty bad ass and come off as a distinct threat. They don’t go down easy, and our heroes certainly have their work cut out for them if they are going to survive. There have been many films done in the past that have killer machines as their plot and where Battle Drones succeeds is the actual drones themselves. They mean business and I for one would not want to tangle with them if they were real.
Mandylor, who is one of this industry’s unsung actors, is in fine form as Rekker and make no mistake, this is his movie. He carries it on his shoulders and proves to the audience that he is one of the industry’s leading men of action. Mandylor oozes charisma and that is clear from the beginning of the film. Watching this film has even gotten me more excited to see him in the upcoming The Debt Collector.
The rest of the cast is come to play as well with the always welcomed Michael Pare playing Kess the arms dealer who hires Mandylor. Pare is one of those actors that makes any scene he is in that much better. Dominique Swain, who is best known for playing John Travolta’s daughter in Face/Off, plays her role with a little gusto as the CIA agent Hayes. Damsel is not in her vocabulary, and she keeps up with the boys just fine. It was great to see Daniel Southworth again as he has always been one of my favorites on screen fighters. With his role as Shiro, he gets the chance to demonstrate his skills a little and has a nice scene all to himself. The rest of the cast, especially Mandylor’s crew play off each other well and it definitely brings depth to a film whose plot rips off bigger films and has been done a million times before.
There’s action aplenty and while some might pick it apart, I guess I was in the right frame of mind when I watched this one. There’s ample gunplay and a little unarmed combat to keep things rolling and the last two thirds is essentially one long action set piece. I was grinning from time to time as this film goes over the top with its adrenaline and it almost enters the realm of the absurd, or maybe it did. I digress.
The finale is a major letdown, however, if I’m going to really pick out negatives as the choreography lets the actors down and Southworth needed to do more here physically. He’s a true talent and he doesn’t get to fully showcase what he can do in the martial arts. It becomes almost comical in its execution, and I was trying to figure out whether I should laugh or not, but I was certainly rolling my eyes. Also, the bullet time at this point has come off as tiresome so I would have liked to see some regular paced fighting instead of just slo-mo meandering. I get that Gould and company were trying to put a little polish on the sequences, but it needed more natural battle action. If the bullet time was used sparingly then it would have made a more positive impact rather than a distraction. Instead, it just becomes strained.
Overall, these types of films are hit or miss to say the least, but I am happy to report that Battle Drone hits the target more than not and does it with a little attitude that is missing from a lot of these indie action films. The movie is the sum of other films, and it plays off that nicely to bring genre fans a 93-minute diversion. I will say that Mandylor is in true action hero mode, and he is the main reason the film succeeds. Just like his character of Rekker, he is a professional and he always gets the job done and every second he’s on camera, he oozes with charisma and his per usual bravado. Battle Drone is a classic case that you don’t need a lot of money to make a suitable action film, you just need to put a little spit and sweat into it, and the cast and crew sell the small-scale aspect of the movie. It’s more ambitious than it should have been and that is primarily where it stumbles. There’s an endless stream of tracer fire and explosions so what more could you ask for from a film like this. It’s not a perfect film but it delivers a little fun and adrenaline. Battle Drone is a better than average indie action experience and if you’re looking for some dumb fun on a Saturday night, you could do a lot worse.
VERDICT: 2.5 Out of 5 Stars
Battle Drone won’t win a mainstream audience over but if you’re a genre fan and go in with the right mindset, you might just enjoy the ambitious craziness that it offers.
Battle Drone is now streaming on Netflix.