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Mercenary for Justice
The second collaboration between former cinematographer turned director Don E. FauntLeRoy and former actor turned blues musician turned actor again, Steven Seagal (they'd previously worked together on 2005's Today You Die) is a step up in comparison to Seagal previous effort, the dreadful Black Dawn. In fact, the film actually proves to have some pretty decent production values, good action direction, and a better than average performance from everyone's favorite hero for hire.
The movie begins in the middle of a firefight, shot with the apperature of the camera blown wide open to give it that sort of Blackhawk Down look that remains so popular in action movies for some reason. At any rate, a mercenary named John Seegar (that'd be Seagal) and his crew of soldiers of fortune are battling some French soldiers as they're trying to kidnap the French Ambassador – there's a coup going on and he plays some sort of roll in this. Seegar gets pretty steamed when some of his soldiers unload their machine guns into the Ambassador and his family, blowing the mission and getting his best friend killed in the process.
He heads back to the U.S.A. and tracks down his late pal's widow, tells her the news, and then promises her that he'll take care of her and her son in place of her late husband but shortly after he makes that vow, they get kidnapped by a faction who want to use them to blackmail Seegar into doing a mission for them. The son of a prominent gun runner has been arrested and thrown into a prison in Africa, so Seegar must go back there and bust him out of jail if he wants to see the woman and child alive again. What they don't tell him is that there's an ulterior motive at work here and that they intend to use Seegar as a patsy in their plan to rip off an African bank and they don't care who gets killed in the process.
The opening scenes of the film, as impressive as they are on a visual level and as intense as they are as action scenes, are really difficult to follow. Characters are introduced, then killed, and there's a lot of yelling and shouting and it's pretty tricky to figure out just what the Hell is going on in this movie until about fifteen minutes into it when Seagal's character meets up with the widow. From there the plot unravels in a much more tolerable fashion and we get to learn enough about Seegar's character and his motivations that pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place.
Once the initial pacing issues are dealt with and the actual story starts to unfold, Mercenary For Justice throws a few intriguing twists at the audience. While it isn't overly difficult to figure out where it's all heading if you pay attention, it's an entertaining and enjoyable trip getting there. Those put off by the excessive use of body doubles, incoherent mumbling and shots from the neck up in shadowy environments of Seagal's last few outings might be pleased to find out that although there are still a few 'floating head' moments in this one, for the most part Steve is running around and doing the ass-kicking himself and, since he's not speaking with a retarded Cajun accent, you can actually understand his dialogue in this movie.
In terms of action, Mercenary For Justice delivers the goods. There are plenty of shoot outs, a few solid hand to hand sparring scenes, and a great moment wherein Seagal whips an opponents ass in the men's room, beating the snot out of him in a moment that almost takes us back to the glory days of some of his better films like Hard To Kill. He's not moving quite as fast as he was back then, but at least he's moving, which is a step up from his last few stinkers. In the end, this isn't going to change your life but if you enjoy watching Steven Seagal wandering around beating people up and shooting everyone he can, this one fits the bill.The DVD
The picture is presented in a pretty good-looking 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There are some mild compression artifacts present during a couple of the darker scenes, as well as some mild edge enhancement but none of it is overly severe. Colors look pretty bold and robust without coming across as overcooked, and the flesh tones in the film remain life like without turning too pink or too orange. It isn't a perfect transfer with the aforementioned authoring issues, but there isn't any print damage worth complaining about (a few specks more than I'd expected from a new film, but still not too bad) and the grain that is noticeable is only of the very fine variety. The movie looks good.Sound:
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track does a great job of handling the action scenes for this film. It's a pretty aggressive mix that differentiates and places the action sound effects across the soundstage as required by the way the film plays out. Plenty of gunshots, bone cracking, sword swinging and cheesy background music swells up behind (not overtop) the dialogue, which lets the talkier bits stay clean and easy to follow. This DVD contains an optional English language closed captioning feature as well as subtitles available in English and Spanish.Extras:
Aside from a few trailers for similar direct to video action films, Fox has supplied a brief making of documentary in which we get some interview clips with Seagal who talks up the film a bit and discusses shooting the project and its origins. It isn't all that in depth but it's worth checking out once if you enjoyed the feature itself. The DVD also has menu screens and chapter selection options available.Final Thoughts:
Mercenary For Justice isn't a masterpiece by any stretch but for a straight to video action movie, it definitely delivers. The action starts fast and keeps up until the end and Seagal is actually a lot better here than he has been in recent effort. Recommended for fans, a very solid rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.