Lionsgate // 2011 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // March 8th, 2012
Outgunned, outnumbered, and outside the law.
Before we begin, I would like you to take a moment to examine the Mercenaries DVD cover. Take in the details. A couple of guys in full camouflage gear in mountainous terrain with helicopters in the background. Looks pretty exciting, right?
Sadly, that cover is the most exciting thing about the film. The reason for this is very simple: it's a lie. That's right, Lionsgate is perpetrating a blatant case of false advertising. None of what you see on the DVD case actually appears in the film. Mercenaries was filmed in a flatland forest, there isn't a mountain within 900 miles; there are no helicopters; and the titular mercenaries wear no camouflage whatsoever. This was filmed on an estate in England, a fact driven home by the distinctly non-Mediterranean, undergrowth-free landscape. Just wanted to get that out of the way, before you got your hopes up.
Back to the review...
A sociopathic dictator has staged a coup and taken over a country somewhere in the Balkans. In an effort to make the US accept his rule, he kidnaps the American ambassador and his assistant. The US government doesn't want to create an international incident -- this is how you can tell the story is fictional -- so they send in an "elite special ops" team to extract the ambassador and capture the dictator.
Not the worst premise for a film. Variations on this theme have been done successfully before, from Seven Samurai and The Dirty Dozen to The Expendables (perhaps "successfully" is a relative term). In any case, Mercenaries doesn't waste time getting bogged down in petty things like character background or specialties. Instead, we leader Andy Marlow (Robert Fucilla, The Big I Am) kicking butt in a cage fight, then suddenly the entire team is gathered in a secret bunker for their mission briefing. A few, "Hey, it's been awhile since we were together!" comments are all the script allows for backstory.
But the lack of character depth isn't Mercenaries' biggest problem. That's reserved for a lack of attention to detail. Are an elite group of warriors entering hostile territory really going to be talking and joking loudly as they tramp through the landscape? When they camp for the night, wouldn't they set a guard? You can't even blame the admittedly low budget for some of these oversights. Hey guys...mud is free; smear some on your pasty white faces so they don't glow like a full moon when you're supposed to be stealthy.
I will give Mercenaries this: it pulls no punches. Anyone can die at any time. When one of the mercs doesn't watch his surroundings closely enough, he pays the price. And it doesn't play the "disgruntled GI" card either. When US forces learn their mission is to be handed over to the special ops team, they lend their wholehearted support...to the extent their orders will allow.
Adding to the film's plus column, some of the performances are pretty decent. Fucilla, as the taciturn leader, is helped in large part by his expressive Andy Garcia-like eyes. Kirsty Mitchell (Almost Heaven) does the best she can with the dialogue to give some emotional depth to Beatrice, the Ambassador's assistant turned gunslinger. And the film's best performance is turned in by Geoff Bell (Comes a Bright Day) as a British mole.
Presented in standard definition 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer may actually be Mercenaries biggest weakness. The colors are unbalanced and often washed out with a vague green hue underlying everything. Grain is ever present, especially in darker scenes where the blacks never get deeper than a medium gray. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is adequate at best, with only ambient sounds coming from the rear channels, although the bass response is fairly decent. The only bonus feature is a lengthy "behind the scenes" featurette that gives a bit too much background information and somehow made me dislike the film even more.
Mercenaries tries, it really does. It doesn't want to be just another war movie, it wants to be about something. Alas, a crappy presentation and lack of attention to realistic detail makes it feel like a bunch of friends with cameras and toy guns playing war in their backyard.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R