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Ben Nagy reviews ‘Mercenaries’: Lady convicts forced to free president’s kid from the country of Borat

The Asylum — close personal friends of Joe Bob and Darcy — like all studios, can be hit or miss when it comes to their output.

For every lightning-in-a-bottle “mockbuster” Sharknado that folks who are not hardcore Mutants can latch on to, there’s probably about 10 or so flicks that they’re associated with that can cleave the normal mind’s concept of what a movie should be — kinda like Ed Wood used to do. It’s just really a fact of life when you’re not a Disney or Universal and have a billion-dollar corporation with a huge advertising budget pushing their flick.

Probably why they called themselves The Asylum, right? There’s a padded cell for everybody and every genre (except the boring ones) — our kind of people.

Their bread and butter has been doing the mockbuster thing where they looked to sort of piggyback off the trend at the time — Transformers becomes Transmorphers, Predator becomes The Hunter. They have to consult an attorney pretty closely just to make sure that the big studios don’t turn the harpoons of their attorneys onto the small fish trying to exist in a big pond. They also have the additional challenge of the video store market going to heck because of streaming. The days of a confused mom out there who’s going “Oh, there’s that Transformers flick Joey wanted to see but we missed going to the theater to see it,” and grabbing the Transmorphers DVD are over.

But this Asylum flick I picked up — 2014’s Mercenaries — is one of the pretty dang good ones they’ve done that unfortunately probably didn’t get the attention it deserved.

The backstory is that Sly Rocky Rambo Stallone in 2010 did The Expendables, which united a bunch of legacy action stars with some new ones. It did great. Two years later, Expendables 2 came out. Still did well. In 2014, the third one came out and did pretty OK and there were talks of doing an all-female spinoff called The ExpendaBelles because FRANCHISE, and the rumor was that people like mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey and Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver were going to be in it.

Didn’t ever happen, and even if it did, it probably would have had a tough time topping the Asylum, who beat Hollywood to it.

See, there’s one major, major advantage for pretty much all independent filmmakers that folks lose sight of. While there are always, always, always going to be limitations budget-wise, they are less restricted when it comes to taking risks in the content — aka more creative freedom. If they want to do a flick that’s pretty much a 1978 kung fu flick or a 1985 Cannon films vigilante movie, they can without having to worry about what the international vice president of content distribution (foreign marketing division) has to say in the latest virtual progress report meeting. It’s just the implementation that needs refinement and precision — making sure that things like the script are in the best shape and that you don’t use the take where the rubber knife the actor is holding firmly to the other actor’s neck bends.

Back to Mercenaries, who technically really all aren’t mercenaries, but are rather a group of four women with special sets of skills (all hail the Taken screenwriters for that) taken out of confinement for a rescue mission.

It’s an election year, much like this one, and the president’s daughter, Elyse, is out to Kazakhstan for a photo op with Borat or something (they don’t actually say that, I’m just spitballing).

Brigitte Nielsen is Ulrika, described as a “she-bitch” by the CIA, out in the wilds of Kazakhstan who has her mercenaries ambush the president’s daughter’s motorcade and take her captive. She says she’ll start cutting her up in 48 hours and sending body parts through either FedEx or the Kazakh Postal Service unless the U.S. helps her ascension into taking over the country.

U.S. intelligence takes notice of the abduction and led by Mona (kung fu legend Cynthia Rothrock) hatches a plan to spring four women from prison to band together save the president’s daughter.

Screenwriter Edward DeRuiter’s definitely seen Escape From New York AND Escape From L.A., and although they make a reference to injecting explosives in the convicts, like they do to Snake Plissken, they really don’t do that.

So they get all of the squad together for the mission.

  • Cassandra’s the military and kung fu expert (Zoe Bell, Raze and Grindhouse: Death Proof).
  • Kat’s the sniper and gun expert (Kristanna Loken, Terminator 3, Bloodrayne)
  • Mei-Lin’s the hyper-intelligent explosive expert (Nicole Bilderback , Clueless, Bring It On)
  • Raven’s the ex-CIA operative who turned hitwoman – Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill, a couple of the Sharknado flicks)
Kat (Kristanna Loken) gets to use her big gun in "Mercenaries." (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)
Kat (Kristanna Loken) gets to use her big gun in “Mercenaries.” (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)

There’s the Q from James Bond/Terminator scene where everybody gets their weapons described to them to fill up time and they all have to get dressed up like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2.

Then suspend your disbelief, prepare for a bunch of extras working for Brigitte carrying automatic weapons to get shot and keep an eye out for the big double cross (you can’t miss it) that flips the script as the fighting force of four prepares to kick hiney.

Ben's Bloody Best
The group staggers away from a trying experience in "Mercenarieis." (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)
The group staggers away from a trying experience in “Mercenaries.” (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)

Best Way to Motivate: Mona tells her special force during orientation: “You’re pieces of s—, but you’re lucky pieces of s—.”

Best Way to Multitask: The Asylum got screenwriter Ed to also be Vez, the comic-relief van driver for a scene or two before making him run off into the wastelands of Kazakhstan.

Best Way to Transport two ICBMs in Kazakhstan: One of those box trucks you can rent for $40/hour.

Ben Nagy reviews ‘Mercenaries’: Lady convicts forced to free president’s kid from the country of Borat 1
Zoe Bell (she’s a stuntwoman by trade, don’t you know) does her big stunt as Cassandra in “Mercenaries” as Tiffany Panhillison, playing the president’s daughter, looks on. (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)

Best Way to Heal a Bullet Wound: After her big stunt, Cassandra goes into a bar, takes a swig of vodka and stitches herself up. This and an emotional discovery motivates her to do a monologue, then go all one-woman fighting force on a bunch of  automatic-weapon carrying, camo-wearing doofuses.

Best Way to Increase Your Ranks: Release all the enslaved extras and give em automatic weapons like what happened in Enter the Dragon.

Best Food Critique in the Midst of an Action Flick: When Ulrika says, “You know what the problem is with Chinese cuisine? Too much MSG.”

Best Lines from the Dallas Native: Mei-Lin, who says, “Am I the only one who reads Cold War Architectural Digest?” and “The Asian chick gives happy endings.”

Best Revenge: What happens to Grigori (Tim Abell), Ulrika’s main henchman who kind of looks like John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski and might or might not be speaking English in his dialogue scenes.

Ben Nagy reviews ‘Mercenaries’: Lady convicts forced to free president’s kid from the country of Borat 2
Brigitte Nielsen as Ulrika holds the president’s daughter prisoner in “Mercenaries.” (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)

Best Scene of Absolute Unhingement: Brigitte turns it up to 11 in her final fight. We’re talking Chained Heat 2 squared. Great job.

The flick was directed by Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray, who followed his dad Fred’s footsteps by doing things the drive-in way. Therefore, you’ve got in excess of 30 dead bodies consisting of extras who are camo-wearing doofuses or sex slaves, lots of gunfire, lots of slow-motion action sequences and, despite some choppy transitions structurally, an entertaining women-centric action flick.

Three stars. Slight deduction because of the rubber knife thing and there had to be a better title somewhere.

Check out Mercenaries at a whole bunch of different places to stream — TubiTV, PlutoTV, Crackle (to name three of the free ones) and elsewhere, as well as on physical media.

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