Sony // 2005 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 2nd, 2006
They took his family. Now he's out for revenge.
The Russian Specialist (a.k.a. The Mechanik) is Dolph Lundgren's follow-up to his directorial debut, The Defender. How does he fare for his sophomore effort?
Nick Cherenko (Lundgren) is a simple man trying to live a simple life in his small Russian town. He has a pretty wife, a good-looking little kid, and a successful profession as an automobile mechanic. But one day, a group of Russian mobsters come to town looking to start trouble, and the bullets fly. Caught in the crossfire is Nick's family; when the smoke clears, they lie dead in the streets. The gangsters didn't foresee that the bystanders they killed had a dad/husband who's formerly Russian special forces. Nick arms himself and tracks down the thugs responsible, cornering them in a drug deal and laying waste. Fade to black.
Some time later, Nick emigrates (illegally) to the U.S. and takes a job as a car mechanic in Los Angeles. His past catches up with him when a wealthy woman tracks him down. She pleads with him to go to Russia and retrieve her daughter Julia (Olivia Lee), who's been kidnapped and forced into the sex trade. The woman knows Nick's past, and, though he is initially reluctant, when she shows him a picture of the kidnapper, he changes his mind: it's the mob boss who killed his family, somehow alive after a gunshot to the face.
Nick hops the next plane to St. Petersburg and hooks up with a band of mercenaries, helmed by saucy Brit William Burton (Ben Cross). Their mission is clear: spring Julia from the clutches of her kidnappers and mow down anyone who stands in their way with automatic gunfire and buckshot.
Dolph is back, and this time he's bringing his shotgun. And his Russian accent. The Russian Specialist is a tight, stylized throwback to hard-R action flicks of way-back when. And for this simple fact, I am exceedingly grateful. Lundgren, who directed The Defender, a flawed, but promising shoot-'em up before this, showed me then he knew what red-meat action aficionados wanted. And, for the most part, he's delivered on those sensibilities with The Russian Specialist.
This film is nothing more than a revenge saga. It pits Lundgren's character, a stoic, wordless, physical threat against a cabal of greasy Russian gangsters, and each action scene flows from this. The fact that's he's going after some hapless girl is beside the point -- in fact, beyond a few brief dialogue exchanges, this relationship is subdued. No, the girl's kidnapping is a means to an end, and that end is lots of dead greasy, Russian gangsters. What prompts Nick from saddling up for another round of violence is not the angelic, innocent face of Julia in the photograph her mom shows to him, but the ugly mug of her kidnapper, the man who killed his family. There is nothing profoundly deep at play here; basically, it's Nick Cherenko saying "It's on."
Lundgren does attempt to add some complexity to his hero's story through the use of flashbacks, but, thankfully, it's minimal. It's made abundantly clear in the beginning that Nick loved his family and the one thing you don't want to do is kill them or you will likely get shot in the face. Hammering this point home throughout the film is redundant.
We're not talking "slow burn" action flick here. Nick's fam gets wasted and the very next scene he's blasting bad guys. And it all happens within the first 10 minutes. Then, once he realizes his nemesis still lives, he's immediately suited up for battle again. I like that. Nick Cherenko is a throwback to the cold-blooded, one-dimensional action heroes that I know and love. Dutch Schaeffer. John Matrix. Marion "Cobra" Cobretti. Cherenko is cut from the same cloth. If you're looking for the tortured, multi-layered antagonist who is reluctant to use firearms, watch Batman Begins. For a dose of alpha-male shotgunning, go with this.
The action scenes are primarily bullet-fueled and very bloody. Several big shootouts lead up to a 20-minute climactic gun battle in a small Russian village. This final sequence is an obvious homage to the western, as the good guys and bad guys face off on a barren, dirt road, eye each other, talk some trash, and open fire. And though the subsequent carnage lags a tad too much for my taste, the Final Bad Guy death is a startling exercise in over-the-top dispatching.
In sum: The Russian Specialist is a better-than-most action film. It looks great, earns its R-rating (seriously, keep the kids away), and moves along at a decent clip. Dolph Lundgren can churn out these direct-to-DVD titles as much as he wants, as far as I'm concerned.
The movie has a definite look. It's gritty and washed out and the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer serves it well. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix isn't as aggressively diverse as I would have liked, but it is loud. Just trailers for extras.
One complaint I have about Lundgren's helming is his over-reliance on flash. He uses an awful lot of slow motion and wacky color saturation in the film, and it proved distracting. It just struck me as gimmicky.
If you're walking through video store or browsing your online rental queue and are suddenly struck with the urge to catch a cool action movie, I suggest The Russian Specialist. It could be just what you're looking for.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R