Jean-Claude Van Damme in 'The Last Mercenary', on Netflix. (Image: screen grab)
Jean-Claude Van Damme, the ‘muscles from Brussels’, gave us Bloodsport, and we became instant fans. But that was in 1988. The only wrinkles you saw were on the faces of baddies kicked smack-dab on their faces.
In 2021 when he’s 60, to see him in The Last Mercenary, you know he’s going the Steven Seagal way. Even though the entry is full paisa vasool, and the first fight with the Russians is lame, you want to go back to it when the director decides to make him wear a dress and long hair.
Perhaps French funny films about cops should have ended with The Pink Panther. Because Alexandre from the ministry of foreign affairs is made to careen through the streets of Paris on an electric scooter in his tighty whities. Be warned. This is at no point funny. Xenophobic, yes, Funny? No.
‘Thank God the bulletproof tuxedo was made in France. Had it been made in Bangladesh, I would have been dead by now.’
Who writes this drivel? Apparently those who are still writing about sleeping with other men’s wives. The French stereotypes are disgusting.
So Van Damme has left his son in the care of someone who’s pretending to be a janitor and the French government pays about 1500 Euros per month to look after the lad because daddy is off being ‘secret agent’ for the government.
The son grows up to be a sniveling slob who’d rather sell weed than do anything with his life. When a government official notices that more money is being withdrawn than he’s allowed, the allowance is stopped. Obviously someone else is using the identity to do all kinds of bad things.
The baddies try to kill the son and the old caretaker, because they’re about to sell a secret weapon to ‘foreigners’ for millions. Daddy dearest comes back, discovers that his son is a whiner, but saves the lad.
I don’t want to tell you how annoying the son is, but suffice it to say that when Van Damme yells in frustration at the boy - about how he has to stop whining about being such a victim and do something other than sell weed, and how useless he is that he doesn’t even know how to drive - I willed him to go on through the screen, but the boy had walked off in a huff.
This is not Luc Besson’s Taxi. This is not like any Jean-Claude Van Damme hits you have seen either. This is just plain awful. The last encounter with the bad guys - where Van Damme in a dress, is going to buy the secret weapon called ‘The Big Mac’ from the baddies - is set in a game room in the ‘bad foreigner’s home’ embassy. So you can imagine a foosball table, pinball tables, and yes, a bowling alley too will be used to see bad guys suffer. It’s worse than some of the Bollywood villain dens we have seen in the 1970s. (Don't miss the poster of Bloodsport on the wall.)
The action stars of the 1980s like Sly Stallone have re-invented themselves in age-appropriate roles. But this one does not sit well on Van Damme at all. But I’m being unkind. Van Damme was a-okay as The Bouncer (it’s French and the film received mixed reviews), and even in Black Water (an American film with Dolf Lundgren that only did well with fans). His instinct for action is fine. It’s the comedy in this film that is ghastly.
I am horrified that I have been a fan of the action star and got a picture taken with his bronze statue in Brussels rather than try to push through the crowds to get a look of the little boy pissing. I know good roles are hard to come by when action stars are older, but I wish these stars stop falling for such trashy scripts.
The Last Mercenary is another Netflix mistake. Have mercy on yourself, skip the film.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.