Written by: Heidi Shepler | July 30th, 2021
The Last Mercenary (David Charhon, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars.
It’s been said that the most successful parodies are those done by those who truly love the genre they’re poking fun at. The Last Mercenary is a great example of this idea: nearly every trope of the action genre is present, taken to its logical end of camp and silliness without a trace of cynicism or malice. Austin Powers is a kindred spirit, but the difference here is that there is less farce and more sincere character arcs.
The basic plot is that Richard, or “La Brume/The Mist” (Jean-Claude Van Damme, We Die Young), so called for his legendary ability to evade capture, is a legendary mercenary who disappeared twenty-five years ago. We meet him—naturally, how else?—as he suspends himself between two beams of the ceiling with a full split, calmly observing the two gun-toting henchmen he’s about to beat up. This film makes absolutely no apologies for its references to earlier Van Damme films, including an extended shot featuring a poster for Bloodsport. Given that this tongue-in-cheek approach is established so early on in the film, it adds to the charm rather than detracts from it.
After handily rescuing the terrified son of a Russian oligarch, Richard must return to France because someone has accidentally revealed the identity of his own son, Archibald (Samir Decazza). Why, exactly, was it so important to keep Archie’s existence a secret in the first place, and why do the bad guys immediately use the MacGuffin EMP they call the “Big Mac” to seek Archie out and try to kill him? We don’t really know, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. The game is afoot. La Brume must contend with international assassins, corrupt bureaucrats, the new friends who follow him like so many baby ducklings, the resentment of his long-lost son and his own regrets.
The “aging agent/assassin/badass comes out of retirement to save their child” film is a genre unto itself, and despite its humorous leanings, The Last Mercenary is a solid entry. It does lose a few points for the baffling decision to make the character Dalila (played excellently by Assa Sylla, Girlhood) a drug dealer. Dalila sells weed to fund her undergraduate studies in psychology, and she needs the money because she “grew up without a Dad, and without money.” This plot point is abrupt, feels forced, and the stereotypes are inescapably racist; it would have been better to just let Dalila shine.
The overarching mood of the film is fun: from the high-speed car chase featuring a compact car stolen from a driving school, to the spoiled rich-boy antagonist obsessed with Scarface, to the general who won’t stop telling tales of La Brume’s exploits (he killed a rhinoceros with his bare hands, and performed heart surgery with a piece of bamboo). The film proceeds along a path of familiar plot beats without feeling boring, and the light-hearted humor would lend itself very well to a movie night with a group of friends.