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Nick Gunar (Dolph Lundgren) is a burnt-out, jaded and hard-up former mercenary who is having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. At the end of his rope, he is hired by the Nitro Mine Corporation to strong-arm the natives of a South China Sea island into giving up their rights to its valuable mineral resources. Nick loathes the thought of another mission, but this seemingly easy job will earn him enough money to get back with his estranged family. He recruits some of his former mercenary buddies to help him with the job. The island people refuse to give up their land and Nick decides to help them fight the greedy corporation that hired him. The island and its people bring Nick back to life. He finally finds something worth fighting for and a place to call home. As greed and treachery begin to unravel, Nick's band of mercenaries choose sides. Some are with him and others, still working for the corporation, will stop at nothing to destroy him. Written by
Most definitely Lundgren's best movie, with lots of action, gorgeous scenery, and an excellent supporting cast.
Rating: *** out of ****
I don't generally make it a point to review Dolph Lundgren films, since they're usually steeped deep into mediocrity, but I gave this one a chance based on some fairly high recommendations. And I have to admit, I'm pleasantly surprised; though not a great movie, Men of War delivers thrilling action amidst a plot that's actually not half-bad by "generic action flick" standards.
Lundgren stars as Nick Gunar, an ex-special forces operative who's given a lucrative job by a corporation looking for someone to do their dirty work. Apparently, the company wants mining rights on a small island inhabited by a village of natives and they think Gunar's the man to convince the villagers to sign the rights over; if the natives don't agree, then Gunar and his men will have to eliminate them. With some reluctance, Gunar agrees to the deal and rounds out the rest of his team with hard-boiled mercenaries (totaling eight in all, including Catherine Bell) looking for a good payday.
But upon their first few days on the island, Gunar and a few of his teammates find themselves quite taken with the natives and their way of life, and are unable to bring themselves to complete the mission. This splits the team in half, with Gunar and his group choosing to defend the island and the rest leaving to join another much larger mercenary group (led by Kevin Tighe and Aussie Trevor Goddard) that's got its eyes set on completing the mission. No points for guessing this is going to lead to all-out war.
The film's premise, though often used time and again in the annals of action cinema, is effective in immediately engaging the viewer. Plot has often been a tricky complication in Lundgren's movies, as they tend to get in the way of the action or there's simply not enough of a hook in the story to hold one's attention. Not so in this case, and while the script isn't particularly complex or convoluted, I found myself quite interested in the natives' plight and the way Gunar and his soldiers respond to the situation.
It's also to no small degree that I even cared about the characters, and in this regard, even the natives aren't short-sighted, as ample screen time is given to both B.D. Wong and Charlotte Lewis. Wong, in particular, is excellent as the translator who helps bridge the cultural gap. As the lead, Lundgren is likable and appealing, displaying a fair amount of the same charisma that made Schwarzenegger a huge star. He's clearly not a good actor, but he has an undeniably strong presence.
The supporting cast immeasurably aids the film, most especially hottie Catherine Bell as one of the ass-kicking mercenaries with a heart of gold. I'm only a little disappointed that she didn't strip down or show any skin, so it seems that gratuitous task was left up to Charlotte Lewis. Also making strong impressions are Tom Wright and Tim Guinee as mercs on Gunar's side and Trevor Goddard as the over-the-top villain.
The action scenes are spectacular and thrilling, even if most of it is held off until the climax. But what a climax! The last half-hour is non-stop mayhem, with shootouts, explosions, knifings, and fisticuffs taking place all over the island. For my money, this is the best B-movie battle since Arnold took on all those Latino soldiers in Commando. Lundgren doesn't really get to show off his martial arts moves until his mano-a-mano battle with Goddard, but it's a damn good showdown that wraps the action up on an exciting note.
Add to that the gorgeous scenery and surprisingly high production values (this certainly has the look and feel of a theatrical release), and I'd have to say Men of War is a winner. It's not innovative or original cinema, but it is a highly entertaining action flick and that's all I ask from a movie starring Dolph Lundgren.
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