Now Streaming: The Mercenary (2020) - Reviewed

Jesse V. Johnson's cinematic corner of the action genre is a dangerous beauty.  His films explore forsaken locales where brutality is law and heroes are sometimes a shade darker than those they hunt.  His latest offering, The Mercenary, follows suit, delivering three stunning acts of balletic violence, a solid central performance, and an unexpectedly charismatic villain.  

Maxx, a former legionnaire turned mercenary, is left for dead by his team when a mission goes awry.  When his former comrades return seeking vengeance, Maxx is forced to defend the people who not only healed him, but showed him a life without violence.  Martial Arts legend Dominique Vandenberg stars as Maxx, replacing Johnson's usual partner, Scott Adkins.  Vandenberg is exactly the type of lead this picture requires.  Adequate when words are required and absolutely jaw dropping when they are not.  His scenes with Manny Alva and screen legend Carmen Argenziano have an unexpected amount of playfulness mixed in between platitudes.  However, the scene-stealer is Louis Mandylor. Coming off of an interesting 2019 (Rambo: Last Blood, and Doom: Annihlation) Mandylor once again proves he is the heart of any production he's involved in.  Johnson has built and impressive troupe of performers over the last several years, and while Adkins may be the front man, it is undoubtedly Mandylor who is the glue.  His LeClerc is deliciously farcical, chewing fat in every scene and its evident from the first thrilling sequence how much fun these talents have working together.  

As expected, the violence is mean and unforgiving.  If there is an issue it’s that the first act is so well executed the rest of the film suffers from chasing the dragon.  Gunshots, explosions, and fisticuffs are woven into a tapestry of third world Armageddon with finesse and bravura, hearkening back to 80's golden age of machismo infused action, and all the good and bad that entails.  There are some interesting twists in the narrative of the intro that not only set the tone exceptionally well, but also surprise the unsuspecting.  Johnson's craft continues to improve with each of his films and The Mercenary is emblematic of this fact.  While it would be easy to write this off as a sub-tier actioner, it's evident in every frame how every element of the film is under the control of a consummate director.  Sean Murray's score is the final piece, using simplistic, yet addictive notes to aurally narrate the ballad of Maxx.

Now available for digital rental, The Mercenary is a perfect Friday night affair.  Filled with gruesome kills, a wonderfully hammy villain, and thrilling action sequences, this is the kind of picture that is the foundation for the genre.  Johnson has spent years developing a stable of talent and an unmistakable style, both of which are on resplendent display in his latest bullet to the dome.

--Kyle Jonathan