Expect No Mercy

Expect No Mercy


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

How to write a story, lesson one. Most of us get it in primary school. Dallas may have got away with it, but for everyone else, ending with "and then I woke up and it was all a dream" is firmly disallowed. To get around this, an assortment of low-budget Eighties movie producers, Star Trek writers and David Cronenberg chose to set stories in Cyberspace, a virtual reality environment which, we were assured, represented the future, and should therefore be innately thrilling. eXistenZ may have just about had the wit to pull it off, and Tron had a certain cult appeal, but for everyone else it was simply an excuse for lazy writing.

Watching Expect No Mercy, one imagines that the writer didn't even bother to get out of bed. The only confirmation that there really was one comes from the certainty that nobody could improvise this badly. Lines are declaimed with leaden aplomb by disinterested looking actors. I've seen more complex stories in two-minute advertisements. Logic doesn't get a look-in. But, fans of the genre tell us, that's not what matters. This kind of film is about the action.

This particular film involves two spies infiltrating a martial arts academy which they suspect is a front for an assassins' training camp. It's run by a suspicious character called Warbeck (former Tarzan star Wolf Larson, still sporting his awful jungle haircut) who gurns a lot, keeps losing his shirt, and comes across like a low-rent Ozymandius. He's backed up by the sadistic whip-wielding Damian (Anthony De Longis), with the obligatory unacknowledged element of homoeroticism. There's also a girl (Laurie Holden) who is supposedly a trained fighter too but, of course, switches sides the moment she realises what Warbeck is up to ("Killing people is wrong!") and precedes to be useless at every opportunity - like the recent Doghouse, this film opines that no matter how fierce a woman may seem she can be easily put in her place with a punch to the face.

The other punches, when they come, are not particularly impressive. True, there are some capable fighters here, but the fight scenes are so badly shot that it's difficult to properly appreciate what they're doing. Supposed group fight scenes take place in the tradition of 300, whereby each supposedly ruthless opponent waits politely until the one in front of him has been dealt with before stepping in (the good guys don't seem much brighter). In places scenes are so dark and the camerawork is so clumsy that we can't see who's doing what, a problem compounded by the fact that two of the actors are similar-looking brothers (Billy and Michael Blanks) and that characters sometimes change clothes mysteriously during fights. As for the virtual reality scenes (VR is being used in training and is later used to beat up and detain the heroes), they're like watching somebody else play Streetfighter badly on an ancient, static-riddled arcade machine.

Pretty much everything that could be wrong with a film is wrong with this one, which takes some doing. Lest I forget to mention it, there are also scenes evocative of Plan 9 in which it's nighttime on one set and daylight on another, supposedly at the same time. And Sam Moses deserves a special mention for the worst acting I have seen in a long, long time. There are also lots of truly stupid speculations about the future of crime, which seem more forgivable, this having been made in the past and all, until one realises that dim and distant time was only 1995.

Cute iguana, though.

Reviewed on: 10 Jun 2009
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Spies infiltrate a martial arts school which they suspect of using virtual reality to train deadly assassins.
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Director: Zale Dalen

Writer: J Stephen Maunder

Starring: Billy Blanks, Jalal Merhi, Wolf Larson, Laurie Holden, Anthony De Longis, Michael Blanks, Réal Andrews, Sam Moses

Year: 1995

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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