Director: Paris Leonti
Cast: Robert Fucilla, Vas Blackwood, Kirsty Mitchell, Geoff Bell and Billy Zane
Running Time: 97 mins approx
Synopsis: After a military coup in Balkan territory leads to a US ambassador and his aide being taken hostage, Andy Marlow and his old ragtag crew are sent in ‘under the radar’ to extract them.
With the exception of boy-wizards and stuttering royalty, the British film industry has struggled significantly over recent years. Now, with David Cameron announcing that a comparatively shameful £18 million of Lottery money will comprise the entire budget for the British blockbuster film industry, it is virtually impossible for it to compete with its Hollywood counterparts, who regularly spend four times this amount on one production. MERCENARIES, despite director Paris Leonti’s (DAYLIGHT ROBBERY) best intentions, is a prime example of why more investment is needed, because it is ultimately a dissatisfying and disheartening thriller that fails to thrill in almost every way.
The only discernible artistic merit that emerged from this mediocre production is the – at times – striking cinematography which deftly highlights the contrasting and vibrant colours of the Balkan landscape, as well as the dark and lonely side of it too. Robert Fucilla’s portrayal of ex British SAS serviceman, Andy Marlow is also a rare positive. He deciphers and realises the strong aspects of the script, of which there are few, and manages to almost make the lesser elements, of which there are many, believable. He is the stereotypical strong and silent leader who has a dark past, and nothing left to lose, but he is surprisingly successful in captivating the audience, and helping them to sporadically forget the triteness of the role.
However, any potential MERCENARIES had is well and truly overshadowed by the lack of a cohesive narrative and a decent sized budget. When Captain Torida (Billy Zane) sets Marlow the task of re-assembling his old band of brothers for the mission at hand, some kind of basic relationship development, or even just a condensed introduction is needed. Instead, before you can say ‘I wish I was Billy Zane’, Marlow and his men are up to their eyeballs in carnage and spent bullet casings. This rushed pace, coupled with the one dimensional villains of the piece (they are exclusively evil with no discernible personalities) makes it extremely difficult to care about any of the other characters. Furthermore, two veterans of British acting are thoroughly wasted. Vas Blackwood (LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, CREEP) and Geoff Bell (GREEN STREET, THE BUSINESS) do their best to breathe life into two vastly differing, but equally predictable and unnecessary, characters.
With substantial editing to the script, more financing for the over-used and amateurish special effects, and refined themes to work around, MERCENARIES could have been an enjoyable yarn. As it is, the only perceivable themes or lessons to be learned are: Terrorists are naughty, the American government is unreliable and the British are stoic, morally superior beings. We all know the first and second themes hold water, but the third is just plain ridiculous.
Unless David Cameron changes his bureaucratic ways – which is about as likely as the emergence of world peace – and realises that a competitive British film industry could only be a blessing, it will continue to churn out uninspired guff. In times of financial strain this may be a lot to ask, but these latest figures are absurd; cutting budgets and driving the art form into the ground will definitely not work. It will doubtless result in thousands of film and media graduates twiddling their thumbs when they could be creating something beautiful for the world to engage with and enjoy.
As it stands, Cameron and the UK film industry are about as morally superior and stoic as a disemboweled London pigeon.