Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // February 28th, 2012
Those lucky enough to have seen the unlikely greatness of Undisputed 3: Redemption witnessed the unique skills of Marko Zoror, the stuntman and martial artist who played the main villain in the prison fight film. Large, menacing, and athletic, Zoror may not be the most believable actor, but he's an intimidating onscreen presence and he has the title role in the highly amusing Chilean action romp, Mandrill.
After witnessing his parents murdered as a boy, Antonio (Zaror) trained to be Chile's top assassin. Renamed Mandrill, he receives an assignment to take out a gangster and casino owner called El Cíclope (Juan Pablo Aliaga), for obvious reasons. As soon as he reaches the casino, though, he meets the beautiful Dominik Del Solar (Celine Reymond). He falls for her charm, but soon discovers not only that she is the daughter of his target, but El Cíclope is also the man who murdered his parents.
Mandrill features one of the most overused plots in all of action cinema, but it can still manage to work if done right. The completely unserious tone and outstanding fight sequences in this one totally make up for how obviously the story is told. Director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza (Mirageman, in which Zaror also starred) gives it the feel of a '70s cop movie, which is blatantly laid out in the characters' collective obsession with fictional Bond-esque action hero, John Colt. Trailers and scenes from John Colt movies permeate the narrative and Mandrill's entire style is modeled after it. Espinoza creates a fast-paced, highly amusing narrative around the style, and takes it over the top with the action.
You don't have to wait long for the fighting to start, and it comes at heavy clip the whole movie long. Zaror is sick with his feet, especially for his size. The fights are varied and explosive, a good mix of fisticuffs and gunplay, and delivered with plenty of panache. Zaror mixes it up really well with his punching bag adversaries and is completely believable beating up suckers. The character's penchant for submission finishers is a little weird under the circumstance, but they're pretty realistic, so it doesn't matter all that much.
Espinoza makes sure that the action comes first, but he doesn't skimp on the romance and comedy. Absolutely everything in the relationship between Mandrill and Dominik is clear from the moment they lay eyes on each other, but it's a fun little love affair that results in some tense scenes late in the film. Zaror and Reymond, a real life couple at the time, have good chemistry together and are a great sexy duo to play out the story. At the very least, it helps to mask the problems with the plot.
Mandrill reminds me of the Transporter and Crank movies, which mix absurdity and comedy in with a heavy dose of action and a bit of sexy romance. As somebody not terribly enamored with the genre, historically, I prefer it when the movies laugh at themselves a little bit. The only thing Mandrill takes seriously is the fighting, which really is pretty sweet. As a master shot, it's unclear why the character doesn't just shoot his targets in the face, but it's a whole lot more compelling to see Zaror punching those same faces.
The Blu-ray release of Mandrill from Magnolia Home Entertainment is definitely not all it could be, but it performs adequately. The 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer is generally crisp, but in the numerous gunfight scenes, that crispness betrays the film's budget. The gunshots and bullet wounds are done with CGI and, while I'm sure they saved a lot of money, they look jarringly fake. The colors of the transfer are very good, though, and the black levels are deep, so it's not too bad. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is much better, with a good punchy surround track that has good separation and clear music and dialog. The only extras are a couple of short featurettes. One deals with the filming of the fight scenes; it's inessential, but it is cool to see the acrobatic fights unedited. The second is a basic behind-the-scenes piece that is also short and even less essential than the other one.
Mandrill might be completely ridiculous and have a plot that everybody's seen a million times, but the movie is a lot of fun. The tongue in cheek action keeps the story light and Zaror is a totally decent action hero. If nothing else, fans of the fight genre will certainly be impressed by his crazy flip-kick abilities, and will definitely get a kick out of this low budget beat-em-up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R