Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"E" is for Expect No Mercy

 1995's Expect No Mercy was the hotly anticipated re-teaming of DTV action duo Jalal Merhi and Billy Blanks (Talons of the Eagle). Because they'd already been undercover operatives taking down Asian criminals, Blanks and Merhi needed a new challenge, and luckily for them (not so much for us), the mid-nineties brought about the "hot" fad of Virtual Reality. It's time to head inside the virtual world for some martial arts action!

 Expect No Mercy begins with Warbeck (Wolf Larsen) booting up the "Bertolucci" program, which leads us into an amazing cgi landscape that's some serious "Money for Nothing" shit right here. I mean quality. It turns out that this is the fancy way we get to his elite hit squad, who are infiltrating Bertolucci's compound. One of them uses a whip, and another guy carries around an iguana, but is nice enough to leave him somewhere safe. Also there's a guy with grey hair named Spyder, played by Michael Blanks. Since (SPOILER) Billy Blanks fights and kills him later in the movie, you can probably call "nepotism" on his prominent role.

 They all have tiny cameras on their, uh, headsets, and Walkman earphones so that Warbeck can see and communicate with them. He warns them that they call Bertolucci the "cat" because eight previous assassination attempts have failed, but they manage to take him out and all of his body guards with minimal effort. I guess as a tribute to the target's namesake, a chick gets naked and goes skinny-dipping before it all goes down. Enjoy it fellas - it's the only gratudity you're getting in this flick.

 Now maybe I was naive in assuming we're supposed to want these guys to kill this jerk and that the iguana thing is supposed to be cool or something, but it turns out Warbeck and his team are the BAD GUYS. Good job with the "bait and switch," movie. It's weird because they make wisecracks and don't behave like evil assassins or anything - just a team that knows their job and how to do it well. But it turns out the cops frown on assassinations from a guy who runs the Virtual Arts Academy, so they send in Justin (Blanks) to find out what Warbeck is up to and stop him.

 Already on the inside is Eric (Merhi), an instructor who helps the Virtual Arts Academy students use VR training to "know kung fu" faster than they would learn it normally. They fight in virtual environments with computer generated opponents while wearing those VR goggles that you haven't seen since The Lawnmower Man or the local arcade gave up trying to get people to pay for a dumb gimmick. Also there is technician Vicki (The Walking Dead's Laurie Holden), who inadvertently gets tangled up in their vague corporate espionage.

 Meanwhile, Warbeck is being hired to kill Goldberg (Sam Moses), a key witness at some trial, so Eric, Justin, and Vicki need to stop that from happening. But first shenanigans as Justin learns all about virtual reality training and meets his other students. Also, for reasons unclear to anybody but Billy Blanks, when he arrives at the Virtual Arts Academy, he decides that he need to look like Wesley Snipes in White Men Can't Jump. It doesn't serve any purpose, but it happens.

 Expect No Mercy is a movie that moves forward chronologically, but without any of the connective tissue that helps a narrative make sense. Yes, technically what happens from scene to scene is what should happen in order for the plot to advance, but the how or why Eric and Justin get there is often completely ignored. For example, Justin gets in a fight in the cafeteria in order to steal a security card from one of the staff. The next scene (after the guards are holding him) is Justin and Eric sneaking around the heavily fortified compound (which has cameras everywhere) using the stolen card. Did the guards just let Justin go? Where the hell did Eric come from?

 If I'm being honest, it just adds to the charm of this ridiculous movie. It functions best during the "virtual" segments, of which there are less and less as the story goes on, but the best way to describe what they were going for with the "opponents" is "Mortal Kombat on a budget." There's even a kung fu clown that Billy Blanks immediately kicks in the balls. In fact, most of these guys would be right at home in a WWF ring, what with all the low blows, sleeper holds, and eye gouging. Blanks and Merhi have terrible one liners, and it's hard to assign all the blame to writer J. Stephen Maunder (also Talons of the Eagle), because you have to be able to deliver a one liner in the first place.

 One could say that Merhi and Blanks have wooden delivery, but that's an insult to wood. Their fights are often hilarious because of the ADR and foley, but it is what people came to see. Or rented to see. The upside is that Laurie Holden doesn't seem to be aware that she's in a shitty action movie and manages to be pretty good while still baring her midriff for the entire movie. (No nudity though, although it looks like she ends up with Merhi, so maybe we're winning out by not having a love scene). Wolf Larsen is also pretty good, as is his lieutenant, Damian (Anthony De Longis), the guy who likes to use a whip.

 Expect No Mercy is not a great movie; like many films obsessed with a fad, it just seems really dated now and while you won't see me giving this movie credit often, in the wake of The Matrix anything from the 90s dealing with virtual reality just looks silly, including Virtuosity. But laughing a lot is not such a bad thing in my book, so Expect No Mercy has a level of entertainment value that I appreciate. For movies starring Billy Blanks*, it's definitely a high water mark.

 * By this I mean "movies that are not The Last Boy Scout"

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