Mercenary For Justice Review
On the small Southern African island of Galmoral, the French army that is present there have a small group of American mercenaries pinned down. In the middle of a firefight, they get split up, one group of them defending their position, the other taking the French Ambassador on Galmoral as a means to make their escape. But things go tragically wrong. The CIA, who were responsible for the mission in the first place, deny any knowledge of the mercenaries, the French Ambassador and his family get blown up as the French troops refuse to hold fire and John Seeger (Seagal) watches as Radio Jones, his best friend, gets gunned down. Promising that he'll take his body home, Seeger stands incredulous as the other mercenaries demand that he leave Jones' body behind, telling him that there's only room for one more on the helicopter.
Back home, Seeger visits Radio Jones's widow and her young son, telling them how sorry he was to have to leave the body behind. But the memories of Galmoral linger in his mind and Seeger determines to have his revenge on the men behind the CIA's betrayal - CIA operative Dresham (Goss) and Black Ops Dealer Chapel (Smith). But they have plans of their own and Dresham asks Chapel to set up another job, one that Seeger won't refuse and, when he accepts, one that will allow the CIA to assassinate him. When Chapel is contracted by an arms dealing billionaire to break his son out of a South African prison, he and Dresham seize the chance to get Seeger involved. But Seeger has plans of his own, with justice and revenge first amongst them...
At the time I did wonder why the shelves of Globe Video, my local video shop in the VHS boom of the eighties, had quite so many cheap thrillers set in the south. South America, South Africa, the South Pacific...though obviously not South Pacific itself. The south did seem to be something of a haven to the criminally-minded and thrillers set there did appear to be remarkably popular in the day for quite inexplicable reasons. Where I could perfectly understand the need for the blockbusters of the day in the shop as well as what would, a year or two later, be dubbed the video nasties. There would even be, I assumed, a particular demand for the more tawdry British sex comedies despite them usually featuring the unattractive bottom of Robin Askwith far more than they did the bosoms of British seaside lovelies but the Southern thriller was something of an anomaly even then.
But, of course, it was all quite obvious some years later when the reason for their production wasn't so much one of their being popular but that, firstly, they were very cheap and, secondly, there wasn't much else about. And so the unlikeliest of actors were sent into El Salvador, sub-Saharan Africa and various countries dotted around Southern Asia to fire blanks at the locals, free some American captives and haul their non insubstantial bulk around the kinds of buildings favoured by terrorists, where bullet-holes seemed to be an essential part of the decor. All the while not really looking to be enjoying where their increasingly threadbare career has taken them.
It says something about the freefalling trajectory of Steven Seagal's career that, with Mercenary For Justice, he finds himself in Southern Africa and shooting dead various Afrikaaners whilst searching for two missing Americans. Unfortunately, Seagal is long past his best come this film, something that I suspect he's fully aware of as the first fifteen minutes see him hidden in the shadows and avoiding the full view of the camera. When he does eventually have to run towards a helicopter - and running is not something that Seagal does easily in this film - he puts down the body of Radio Jones, which he was carrying and, standing up, heaves himself over the last twenty yards to where the helicopter waits. This being my first glimpse of Seagal in five or six years, I thought that he might have eaten Jones' corpse whole in an effort to bring his body back home.
Seagal is now what you might sensitively call a larger size. A big man. A patron of shops that cater for the plus-size gentleman, for whom the 40-inch waistlines of the high-street retailers would be, literally, something of a squeeze. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be something of a problem. Certainly, I'm not, as opposed to the manner of a junior health minister, going to lecture for or against the weight of the nation but Seagal is, we're led to believe, the most decorated veteran of the first Gulf War. I can only assume they were handing to medals, in the manner of one's mother, to those who left their plates clean in the mess hall. Either that or he ate his way to Baghdad on the bodies of the Iraqi Republican Guard.
But Seagal is also a martial artist, a good one we're led to believe, but his bulk makes him the unlikeliest practitioner of the arts since Bella Emberg donned a gi for a sketch alongside Russ Abbott and which may have featured a parody of The Karate Kid. And at least that was intended to be funny. This, sadly, isn't but so it feels like it was only a matter of time before Steven Seagal showed up in a distinctly below-par thriller set somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Keeping true to form, there is mention of the CIA as a rather shadowy organisation, the locations are dotted around Southern Africa in countries that are regarded as being somewhat less than stable and a plot that sees Seagal as a mercenary fooling around with other professional soldiers whilst they break into prisons, rescue American hostages and hold up a bank.
As for the actual martial arts, Seagal does his usual wavy-hands thing but it does rather look as though sympathetic stuntmen appreciative of the work are throwing themselves at his fists rather than any accuracy on the part of Seagal. It's a sad state of affairs to see Steven Seagal in this state as over the years I've had an inordinate amount of fun with his films. Indeed, he remains, even here, much more fun than any one of Michael Dudikoff, Cynthia Rothrock or Jean Claude van Damme and his two Under Siege films are ridiculously entertaining. Even his On Deadly Ground - the oil rig one with Michael Caine for those of you losing track of the titles of Seagal films - contains one of the great mouth-on-floor moments as he stops a fight to ask a hired thug, "What does it take to change the essence of a man?" Time, apparently.
And yet in spite of all of the problems with Mercenary For Justice, there is some very cheap thrills to be had with it. Of course, it isn't actually very good but if you've fought your way through plenty of Seagal films to date, one more won't hurt, least not when there are laughs, there is some decent action and Seagal actually manages to crack a grin through a pair of jowls that wouldn't look out of place on a big, jolly Tory MP. Someone like Nicholas Soames. It is not, however, a look that's well-suited to a martial artist and star of action movies. Unfortunately, it doesn't much look like Steven Seagal will be arresting his expanding waistline any time soon, meaning that his best is behind him and his future lies in films such as this. Unfortunately for Seagal, the eighties, the video boom and that glut of cheap thrillers are long gone.
Presented anamorphically in 1.78:1, which suggests Mercenary For Justice was always destined for the DVD format, this is very a ordinary looking presentation. The opening scenes on Galmoral Island aren't bad - they're heavily influenced by the shaky camerawork of Saving Private Ryan - but once the action returns to the US and then to South Africa, things look very dull indeed. With little detail in the image and a made-for-television look, this doesn't impress on anything bigger than 14". The DD2.0 Surround isn't at all bad, however, with the only disappointment being that, for a recent film, the budget didn't stretch to a DD5.1 mix. Otherwise, the mix of action and dialogue is alright late in the film but favours the former early on, which leaves the dialogue sounding much too quiet. Finally, there are English subtitles.
As well as a Trailer (2m18s), there is also a Making Of (15m18s) that begins with the crew on the film, including director Don E. FauntLeRoy, marvelling at the martial arts skills of Steven Seagal. One can only assume that they've never seen any actual sports martial arts to be impressed by Seagal's waving of his hands. Otherwise, this is a very ordinary making-of with some behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the main cast and crew.
However much fun there is to be had at the expense of Steven Seagal, it's rather disappointing to see this icon of the action genre going direct to video. And to being the size that he now is, which, regardless of the quality of the movies, is probably sadder still.
Last updated: 12/06/2018 01:40:05