You have to give it to the Asylum. Not only did they beat the studios to the punch on the female “Expendables” movie, but they cast actual brawlers for the roles of their titular Mercenaries. While Hollywood may be going for wafer thin women on their own version, “Mercenaries” brings aboard a lot of the obvious suspects of what a female “Expendables” movie should rightfully be composed of. Cynthia Rothrock is the leader, and the heroes of the film are Zoë Bell, Vivica A. Fox, Nicole Bilderback, and Kristanna Loken, while Brigitte Nielsen pulls up the rear as the film’s villainess. It’s a very impressive line up for a movie with seemingly half the budget of “The Expendables.”
“Mercenaries” (also known as “Prison Raid”) is a clever mix of “The Losers” and “The Magnificent Seven,” teaming a group of tough female prisoners, all of whom are tasked with a suicide mission in exchange for their freedom. On a trip of good faith to Kazahkstan, the president’s little girl is kidnapped by a vicious dictator named Ulrika (Nielsen) who is keeping the girl for ransom in exchange for—something. I know she has WMD’s, and has an army, but I was kind of lost from that point. In response, an enigmatic government official named Mona (as played by Rothrock) assembles the four women whose specialties prove useful in retrieving the young girl. I wish “Mercenaries” would have had a larger budget. While Olen Ray’s direction is solid, much of the film still could have benefited from more polish. The editing is choppy, and the effects are sub-par, but “Mercenaries” gets the job done, regardless.
While this is pretty much an ensemble picture for the women warriors, Zoë Bell steals the film out from everyone, playing the heroic Clay, who becomes emotionally involved in the mission. Every girl has their own small back stories, including Loken as Kat whose temper flares at the prospect of rape scenarios, and Nicole Bilderback as the somewhat psychotic Mai-Lin who gets off on explosives. Plus, she delivers the sarcastic quips like a champ. Ms. Nielsen seems to have a good time in the role of Ulrika, tussling with Bell and posing a genuine threat with her stature and on-screen presence. “Mercenaries” channels a lot of the goofy, shoot em up action flicks from the nineties that painted video store shelves for a decade, and it’s a blast. The women are tough and sexy, Olen Ray really has some genuine directing chops, and the movie embraces its cheesiness. True, Christopher Olen Ray’s “Mercenaries” may not be a masterpiece, but it’s fun, action packed, and infinitely more entertaining than “The Expendables 3.”