At 60, Jean-Claude Van Damme has racked up roughly as many features as birthdays. Noting this prolificness, the strangely compelling “JCVD” (2008) showed the Belgian bruiser ruminating on the options available to an aging action star.
“The Last Mercenary (Le Dernier Mercenaire)” arrives on Netflix as one of those options, with Van Damme evincing an impish self-awareness about himself and the genre that nurtured him. As Richard Brumère, a famed secret service agent rumored to have once felled a rhino with his bare hands, the actor is in fine fettle. It might take him a bit longer to film a stunt, but, thanks to Thierry Arbogast’s skill with a camera, the seams in the action barely show.
That’s as well, because Richard prefers hands and feet to guns. And when his estranged son (Samir Decazza) is falsely accused of arms trafficking, Richard must return to Paris after a 25-year absence to set things straight. This will demand multiple disguises and international locations (the movie was filmed mostly in Ukraine), a fresh batch of sidekicks and, probably, a great deal of stretching.
A farcical fusion of terrorism, stolen identity and father-son healing, the plot (by the director, David Charhon, and Ismaël Sy Savané) is bloated and sentimental. The middle section droops and not all the performances pop. (Though Nassim Lyes lays it on with a shovel to play a “Scarface”-obsessed villain.) But the fight scenes have wit and Van Damme delivers his lines with just the right amount of weary good humor.
“You’ve aged,” a former colleague (played by none other than Miou-Miou) observes, and it’s a testament to the film’s tone that the comment, far from being a burn, is almost a caress.
The Last Mercenary (Le Dernier Mercenaire)
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. Watch on Netflix.