By: John M Jerva
REVIEW: THE MERCENARY
STARRING: Dominiquie Vandenberg. Louis Mandylor and Carmen Argenziano
DIRECTED BY: Jesse V Johnson
THE REVIEW: Before I officially get started, let me just say that if you follow my little old website that could, you will know that I am a major fan of director Jesse V. Johnson and action stars Dominiquie Vandenberg and Louis Mandylor. If you scroll through my archives on the site, you will find many posts that include either all three together or by themselves. I have interviewed Jesse twice now and I recently had the honor of chatting with Dominiquie which you will be able to read in a few short days. Both men are gracious and down to Earth and are always a pleasure to talk to.
I was first introduced to both Johnson and Vandenberg back in 2003 when I was able to get my hands on a copy of their low budget action-drama The Honorable which was a perfectly blended tale of honor and retribution with Vandenberg and Johnson giving us just a little taste of what they could do on film. In real life both men are the real deal with Vandenberg serving in the French Foreign Legion and after becoming a Soldier for Hire and Johnson earning his battle tested stripes on the field of the stunt professional with which we all know can just be just as dangerous.
In 2005, both men were reunited for the over the top and wonderfully brutal action-thriller Pit Fighter which amped up the blood and brutality to the 10th power and the ending alone was an action lover’s dream come true as it showcased Vandenberg dispatching a literal army of bad guys before he himself would go down in a blaze of glory. The two men would work together again on the 2019 action epic Triple Threat and even though Dom only had a small role, he still left a major impact on the movie and the audience.
Fast forward to now and we have them reunited once more for the brutally delicious old school style action fest titled The Mercenary which has Vandenberg front and center as he finally is able to put the character that he created years ago for a graphic novel on the screen for all action fans to wet their collective pallets with. In the film, Vandenberg plays Maxx and coincidentally, the film was called Legion Maxx at one time but was changed because Vandenberg told me that the releasing company thought that audiences would mistake it for a Roman era film so, fair enough, it was changed to the more user-friendly title we have now. That’s OK because it could have been called Lady and The Tramp 2 and I would still have loved every blood-soaked minute of it.
Like his character in Pit Fighter, this film is a tale of a very bad man who by fate has a change of heart and serves out the rest of his life to right his wrongs and deliver retribution to those who deserve it the most. Maxx is an elite soldier for hire who runs with a really bad crowd of other Mercs led by the diabolical LeClerc played by wonderful character actor Louis Mandylor of The Debt Collector fame. The elite team scours the globe looking for anyone to kill and they don’t care about collateral damage either. This life of death is weighing heavily on Maxx, and he no longer wants to be a part of it.
On one faithful mission, things don’t go as planned and the group turns on Maxx leaving him for dead. He is rescued however by a kind and gentle priest played by Carmen Argenziano and so begins Maxx’s path to salvation. Maxx is essentially a reborn man who can now live a life of peace at the church run by the priest, and he can start to heal from his last damaging mission.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case and Maxx’s former colleagues along with the vengeance seeking LeCleric find out that he is still alive and set out on one last bloody mission to hunt down their former ally and make sure he is dead for real. The only problem is that Maxx is a virtual one-man army and in a slew of action drenched set pieces that would put Rambo to shame, he takes on all of them in a death clutching fight to the finish that will leave only one side standing. Along the way, blood will flow and stain the Earth and bodies will hit hard and heavy.
The Mercenary is another entry in a line of Indie action pics that are delivering old style 80’s and 90’s action and, in this day, and age of CGI blockbusters, this form of conventional filmmaking is warm and inviting. Nowadays, the PG-13 rating handcuffs a lot of action pics but here we are treated to a massive display of hard-edged R rated action that will satisfy even the most jaded of action genre disciple. This is essentially non-politically correct filmmaking at its finest and just like Vandenberg and Johnson’s The Honorable and Pit Fighter, it comes complete with a message that even the evilest of men can wash away their sins and ask God forgiveness.
Vandenberg, like I said before, is the real deal having done all this in real life serving in some of the worst hell holes you can imagine and just to know that your action star literally went out to eradicate death squads who were preying on the innocent just gives the film the realistic stamp of approval. Vandenberg brings it in every action scene that is a combination of awesome firepower and elite hand to hand and bladed weapons combat. This man lives and breathes CQB combat and it amps up the action to the point where you might have to pause the film to catch your breath. Vandenberg is not a big man by any stretch of the imagination, but he is like a wolverine who lies in wait to pounce on his enemies with unflinching results.
The action in the film is literally nonstop and Vandenberg and company are up to the sweat soaked challenge as it is a marathon of violence from start to finish. Veteran stunt coordinator Luke LaFontaine keeps everything real, honest and ferocious and he always brings his collective A game to the mix when he choreographs the carnage. He’s wonderfully old school like the film itself. I love a good shootout but there is something about a knife fight that is even more thrilling, and, in that regard, Vandenberg is like a master craftsman who puts on a clinic for all to enjoy. You will definitely want to use the rewind button on this one.
In supporting role duties, Mandylor delivers just like always as the evil LeClerc and he always steals every scene that he is in. Mandylor is one of those few actors that can play anything and it’s funny to watch him in one of my wife’s favorite films My Big Fat Greek Wedding and then see him in something like this. He has that aura of gravitas, and he chews up the scenes every time. When it comes to action, Mandylor is always up to the challenge and whether he’s the good guy or the one you hate, he brings it home every time.
What can I say about Mr. Johnson that I haven’t already said in the past? He’s just one of those elite directors working in the genre today that gets it and knows what the audience wants to see when it comes to action and stunt warfare. Johnson always has the camera exactly where it needs to be, and he always uses the best of the best talent like Vandenberg and Scott Adkins to paint his masterpieces of blood and mayhem. He not only uses these great stars, but he uses them to the best of their abilities, and I challenge you to find a movie that he has done that was a letdown when it came to the action. He’s certainly a hall of famer when all is said and done.
The plot is a simple one and that’s the way it should be as it is all about the action here. Vandenberg proves once again that he is top tier in the field and should be a major action star and Johnson marks another notch on his best of accomplishments. With The Mercenary, you know exactly what you are getting, and it delivers in spades along with a soaring score that calls back to those glory days of VHS action that one went to a video store to find. Unfortunately, those days of going to a store and being pleasantly surprised by what you found on the shelf are gone but these types of filmmakers are doing their best to keep that old school feeling alive. With this film, if you’re looking for a classic throwback of violence and destruction that was a staple in theaters back in the day, then look no further. It has arrived with The Mercenary! VIVE LA MORT!
VERDICT: 4.5 Out Of 5 Stars
The Mercenary is available January 7th on DVD and Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment