This, my friends, is the way to walk off into the action hero sunset.
Jean-Claude Van Damme, kicking ass and doing splits, donning disguises and having a few laughs at his own expense. Pontificating like a pugilist/prophet, a sage for the ages.
“He who wants to approach a lion should look like a gazelle.” “If a beard endowed wisdom, then all goats would be prophets.”
And “The Mist…it can be seen, but it’s impossible to CATCH it!”
That’s his character’s code name in “The Last Mercenary,” the funniest French action romp in ages, a laugh-out-loud farce filled with “Wow, the old guy can still DO that?” fights and stunts.
Brawls in bathroom stalls, a chase in a driving school Suzuki econobox, a dash through Paris on a rented Cityscooter in tidy whiteys — OK, a supporting player handles that — “Last Mercenary” is the sort of lark that a lot films in this genre try to be. But everybody involved in director David Charhon’s overlong skip-along the silly side is up to the task, doing it “old school” (in French with subtitles, or dubbed into English).
JCVD is the title character — ancient, mysterious and not photographed since middle school, a “James Bond” who has been off the books for decades until he pops back into Paris on urgent business.
There’s this entitled Middle Eastern prince (Nassim Lyes) who’s leading police on chases, singing along to the disco on his antique gullwing Mercedes 300, doing drugs and barking his best Tony Montana impersonation, because “Scarface” is more of a documentary to him than a fictional (remake) character. And he can’t be prosecuted because he has “full immunity.”
Richard Brumere, aka “The Mist” (JCVD) is the one who guaranteed that immunity. But it was for his son, a hapless, directionless 25 year old named Archibald Al Mamoud (Samir Decazza), a kid his father left in the care of a brother agent. The prince has been given his identity and “immunity for life” by some corrupt member of the government.
Now, that immunity has been pulled, the kid is just “a mess from the ’90s” to be “cleaned up.” Only the intervention of his unknown Dad can save him.
There’s this EMP gadget called “Big Mac” that is about to fall into the wrong hands, and The Mist has to save his son, clear his name, foil the Big Mac sale and expose the corrupt. And he’s got to do it wearing every kilometer of Van Damme’s high-mileage body and beautiful Belgian face.
The Mist gets unwelcome “help” from “Archie’s” friend Dalila (Assa Sylla, an Afro-French spitfire) and her hulking stoner brother Momo (Djimo).
And there’s this out-of-his-depth bureaucrat (Alban Ivanov) who might not be so dumb that he’s willing to be the designated patsy when all this goes sideways. He’s the one who loved tidy whiteys, and he’s hilarious.
The set pieces are action-packed stunners played for MAXIMUM giggles. That Suzuki driver’s ed car is chased by assorted cop cars and vengeful agents in a Dodge Challenger, a sprint at high speed and in slo-mo, with The Mist “driving” from the instructor’s side because his kid never learned to drive and freezes at the steering wheel. It’s set to Blondie’s “One Way or Another.”
The fights are cleverly photographed, and as much fun as Van Damme has with disguises — janitor, swim instructor, waiter, driving instructor and hooker — he has even more showing off those freaking splits he can still do, only now for jaw-dropping comic effect.
Van Damme is in on the joke, and never for a second lets us see that he’s in on it. That’s what’s the most fun about “The Last Mercenary.”
If only Arnold and Sly, Bruce and Wesley and Jackie and Mel and Jason were taking notes. This is how you want your past-your-prime action years to pass, with a punch and a laugh.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, violence and lots of it, profanity — ditto.
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Samir Decazza, Assa Sylla, Djimo,
Alban Ivanov, Patrick Timsit, Eric Judor and Nassim Lyes.
Credits: Directed by David Charhon, script by David Charhon and Ismaël Sy Savané. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:52