Sony // 2008 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 7th, 2008
One man shall lead them to justice...
And that man is Van Damme and he's going to do what the government can't seem to: secure out nations' borders -- through kicking!
Recently transferred from New Orleans and towing behind a squirrelly past, Cajun butt-kicker Jack Robideaux (Van Damme, Timecop) takes a job as a border patrol agent. And just in time too. A new criminal force has taken control of one section of the U.S. southern border and these bastards are playing for keeps.
A band of psycho Special Forces soldiers has commandeered a smuggling route, funneling illegal aliens and bricks of heroin through the porous defenses of the Mexico/U.S. line. They've added a new wrinkle to the operation, by randomly outfitting migrants with C4.
Consistently smacked around by the scumbags and constantly hounded by his tough-as-nails commander (Natalie Robb), Robideaux will have to call upon his considerable martial arts skills and his handiness with a firearm to squash the bad guys and return civility to New Mexico.
Wow, I kind of liked this move. It's by no means a must-see action film, but in the landscape of straight-to-video bonanzas The Shepherd carries a big-ass crook and isn't afraid to use it.
The best thing it has going for it is the action, which is plentiful. There is much gunplay and plenty of villains find themselves ventilated and blasting blood out of gunshot wounds and there's an extended bus chase across two countries that leads to a grisly firefight. Add to that Van Damme's trademark fisticuffs, still fairly potent despite the fact he lost a step or two over the years, and the film moves along briskly and entertainingly to its video-game-like shootout, complete with a pair of boss fights.
The narrative doesn't break new ground in the innovation department. The good guy -- Robideaux -- is nurturing a vendetta against the bad guy and the two trade barbs and the good guys kills a bunch of the bad guy's henchmen and one of the seemingly good guys turns out to be bad and in the end the good guy goes toe to toe with the remaining bad guys including one bad guy who's just as good as martial arts as he is and the end. I do like the border patrol backdrop as it's something I haven't seen, but aside from a few vague references to open-border politics and how "we're all travelers in this world," really the characters and plot could be easily juxtaposed with any other crime-fighting profession.
I'll confess to having a soft spot for Van Damme movies. I think it's because he's willing to take a beating. He's a got an enjoyable self-deprecation streak that runs through his films and with The Shepherd the guy allows himself to be smacked around liberally. And the good news is he can give as well as he gets still and that's swell because the villains here really deserve it; they shoot nuns for crying out loud. He may not be able to jump in the air and do those Bloodsport splits anymore but homeboy has kept himself in shape and he's got some nifty fight scenes to flex his moves in. The one-on-one with his kung fu counterpart is particularly well-staged. The Final Bad Guy death, however, is not.
A strong video transfer (1.85:1 anamorphic) that renders the dirt-swept barrenness of New Mexico well, and a spry audio mix (5.1 Dolby Digital) are all you're going to get in a disc otherwise devoid of extras.
It won't redefine the action genre, but The Shepherd...something something witty-sheep-pun-that-implies-this-movie-wasn't-too-bad.
Go ahead, cross the border. We'll look the other way.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R