By: John M Jerva
At first glance, the new action-thriller The Commando which stars Michael jai White is another action pic that features our star doing what he does best. When you see the trailer, there are ample sequences of White dishing out some punishment with guns and, of course, his hands and feet and audiences will think that this one will feature more of the same the actor is best known for. After all, the martial arts and action star has done numerous films over the years which feature that breakneck style of action so does The Commando, which reunites him with Mickey Rourke, deliver what is promised?
The answer is a little more complicated than I would have liked but there are more layers to the movie and the action is more of a supporting player here as director Asif Akbar and White delve into more than just throwing a devastating roundhouse kick. The Commando features the action star as elite DEA agent and former spec ops soldier James Baker who is returning home to his wife and daughters after a botched raid has led to the deaths of innocent civilians. Baker is in bad shape mentally as he was indirectly responsible for the collateral damage and his conscience is weighing heavily on his shoulders as he tries to reconnect with his families while battling his inner demons at the same time.
Enter ruthless career criminal Johnny (Rourke) who is just getting out of prison. Johnny is as bad as they come and he has a mission to complete as money he left behind is waiting for him to come retrieve it. Upon being released on parole, Johnny reunites with his brother and former gang to launch a plan to retrieve the stolen cash at any cost. Unfortunately, Johnny’s stash is buried in his old house which is now being inhabited by Baker and his family and now Baker will have to forgive himself of his sins and reignite his skills to protect his loved ones when Johnny and company come calling in a home invasion that will leave only one man standing when the dust settles.
The Commando comes to us from filmmaker Asif Akbar who I knew about as he directed the sci-fi action film Astro which stars Gary Daniels. The film was a curious effort as it had its moments and Daniels elevated the film, but it was a missed opportunity in terms of action and giving fans the action, that Daniels is known for. With his newest film, Akbar keeps things grounded in reality and while this one still left me wanting more, it was a definite step up. Akbar hasn’t many action films in his filmography, but I see potential especially if he keeps surrounding himself with top tier talents like Daniels and now White.
The Commando starts off promising as White goes into one man army mode on a DEA mission. The scene is filled with some serious firepower and White gets the chance to take out multiple assailants on his way to dishing out some hand to hand. Unfortunately, just as fast as the altercation starts, it ends quickly with White dispatching his foe with ease. This becomes a reoccurring theme with the movie as the action is all too short and sweet.
White is definitely the best part of the movie and audiences will come to find that two/thirds of the film deals more with the PTSD drama which is a close reality in White’s personal life. Just like his character of John “Falcon” Chapman in Falcon Rising, James Baker is a damaged hero who must find his way back in order to save the day. White has dealt with PTSD for real, so this is something that is near and dear to him, and he plays the role of Baker as a tribute to the men and women who suffer from this all too real disability. I was pleasantly surprised to see that The Commando was more than just a kill ’em all action pic and White does those men and women proud with his performance.
Mickey Rourke, who co-starred with White in Take Back, plays the villain once again and here Rourke is more of an extended cameo as he is in a hand full of scenes leading up to the finale. Rourke has always been a Hollywood curiosity and to see him now is something as he looks nothing like he used to back in the day. Rourke plays Johnny with the usual grit and ruthlessness that is expected of the bad guy but there is a deeper layer to him especially when it comes to his brother. Rourke does get an opportunity to show off a little fighting skill but don’t expect much in that department.
The rest of the cast is fine with Brendan Fehr showing up as Baker’s comrade Sebastian, but he is given little to do and is dispatched quickly when the threat comes calling. Veteran genre character actor Jeff Fahey is always a welcome sight, but he is wasted too in a small role, playing Sheriff Alexander who is in league with Johnny. Fahey delivers his usual amount of gravitas in his scenes but there isn’t much there when all is said and done.
The finale is where the action does pick up again and I liked the aspect that Baker was weak throughout while he struggled with his issues but when the time comes to defend his family, he flips the switch and goes into beast mode. With his family in danger from Johnny and his crew, Baker assaults his house and dishes out some decent CQB action as he stealthily takes down numerous thugs with his skills and he does get one extended throwdown with a more able opponent. It’s always a pleasure to see White move and even though, the altercations are short and to the point, White still gets the opportunity to brandish that which he is best known for in the action genre.
This all culminates with the inevitable showdown where Baker and Johnny square off and this scene is the worse culprit of the movie as it is a colossal, missed opportunity. Throughout the movie, Rourke as Johnny is displayed as a bad ass and he even gets a prison fight scene earlier to showcase it but when the time comes to take on Baker, he folds like a deck of cards and goes down easily. Baker basically manhandles Johnny into submission and the promise of the ultimate clash that was showcased in the trailer and key art turns out to be a nothing more than a brief altercation for fans. Anytime that we are robbed of seeing White do more of what he does should be illegal in most states and here it’s highway robbery. I will say that White still gets to have fun with the action and what there is of it is definitely satisfying as usual, but it needed extended carnage in my eyes.
Overall, The Commando is a decent enough time waster with a handful of sequences showing the star doing what he does best, but fans will be left severely wanting. Michael Jai White is solid as always and elevates the material but there are ample missed opportunities to be had in the action department. The dramatic aspects of the film are strong and are clearly the best parts of the whole. White excels in showcasing the plight of someone that suffers from PTSD but in the end, I wanted more of what he does best when it was time to get down and dirty. Director Asif Akbar hasn’t done much in the way of action to this point and it shows in the finished product once again. The supporting cast are able but eventually bring nothing to the proceedings and the finale is a letdown with Rourke being misused in the role of antagonist. If you want to see White tackle the effects of PTSD in a film with much better fight sequences and a showstopper ending, then check out Falcon Rising. To put it simply, The Commando is an action-drama that unfortunately is plagued by a lack of adrenaline.