Tuesday, September 22

Some quick thoughts on The Russian Specialist (2005)


A.K.A. The Mechanik / 94 Minutes / Sony Home Entertainment

"Lundgren plays Nick Cherenko, a former Special Forces soldier forced to leave his home in Russia and escape to Los Angeles when ruthless gangsters kill his wife and son. Living a simple life as an auto mechanic, Nick is offered a hefty reward to go back to Russia to retrieve a wealthy woman's kidnapped daughter. Nick is not interested, until he finds out that the kidnapper is the same mob boss who killed his family. "

Another day, 'nother excursion into Dolphdom (well, the last day for a while). Only this time fifteen years removed from yesterday with both the story and direction handled by the man himself. This is Lundgren's second directorial attempt (first was 04's The Defender) and while there are slivers of positive, boy, this DTV generic available-at-Wal Mart actioner really flirts with viewer torture for around 70 minutes of its duration.

"Dolph, just shut up and look badass, I'll carry the remaining 86 minutes..."

I included the synopsis from the back of the DVD above to illustrate the film's chief issue. That little write-up covers literally about the first ten minutes, after that Cherenko meets up with a British-accented gun-for-hire/informant and a team of ever-so-Eastern European strikeforce/guys wearing thick leather jackets. Then prepare to witness the British informant (Ben Cross) come dangerously close to stealing the lead marquee from Lundgren. It's not that Cross "steals the show"; the screenplay elevates a character that would barely say a single word in better action films. There's nothing special about the character and Cross does little to change that. Just the same grizzled, twitchy, alcoholic, and Earth-tone wearing "guy on the inside" we've seen before in the background of films like Ronin.

Lundgren has maybe half
the lines as Cross and just barely need be in the film at all. Cross's character knows where the crime boss is, sets up the strike team, provides the resources (guns), and knows what to do once they recapture the kidnapped woman. When I see a Lundgren action vehicle, especially one that exists solely on his name, I want to see Lundgren and Lundgren alone breaking deluxe with fist and gun--not some Brit piss ant whose only reason to tag along is because the crime boss entrapped a whore he's smitten with. At a certain point, Dolph hops on a dirt bike and Cross says "I'm not getting on that!", but does anyway. Dammit.

Super blown out picture in slo-mo = Good direction.

Here's what really makes the initial 70 minutes so laborious. Lundgren ripped out a good many pages from Modern Gimmicky Filmmaking, Revised Edition and employs what he's learned with glee. We're subject to slow motion, sped-up frames, wonky color, fade outs, flashbacks, and frantic Bourne-like action editing. These tactics are used to such a degree everything becomes a wash of stagnant headache assistance. I've heard this film likened to hard boiled 70's action, but I fail to see how in the haze of all this useless flash.

Play it again, Sam

Finally, on a good note, the above makes the final twenty minutes an anomalous breath of fresh air. Cherenko and mates face off against the boss and henchmen in a Peckinpah-eqse stand off followed by a cat-and-mouse hunt in an isolated farming village. Things get real quiet with all the overactive camera glitter deadening (like flipping a switch), but its slow simplicity should act as a lesson to director Lundgren. You watch every second as everyone stalks about without checking your watch or uncomfortably squirming. If the rest of the film wasn't such a pain; this conclusion with a satisfying sense of vengeance would be even greater. As it stands, Lundgren ends The Mechanik with a quick patch to a save a little face, but one's tolerance for these DTV gunplay copy-and-pastes must be far greater than mine to enjoy the whole runtime.
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