Sunday, January 27, 2008

No Sin Shall Go Unpunished

It ain't exactly innovative, but MISSIONARY MAN is the best of the direct-to-video action movies Dolph Lundgren has directed to date. His first two—THE DEFENDER and THE RUSSIAN SPECIALIST—are also pretty decent, as DTV actioners go.

It takes its plot from half the westerns ever made--mysterious stranger rides into town and rescues it (nearly) singlehandedly from the evil rich man (and his thugs) who run it. It's the kind of movie where the villain's goons call him "boss." Yeah, like ROAD HOUSE, you got it.

The stranger (Lundgren) is called Ryder in the credits, but isn't identified on screen. What's unusual about him is that he drinks tequila straight and reads the Bible through tiny reading glasses. He rides into a sleepy New Mexico town on his hog to attend the funeral of J.J., a Native American who leaves behind a sister, father, niece and nephew. It isn't revealed how Ryder knows J.J.—"something like" serving in the military together—but he knows him well enough to get involved when Reno (Matthew Tompkins), the local dealer in used cars and drugs, accelerates his reign of terror on the town and on J.J.'s family in particular (it has something to do with needing them out of the way, so Reno can build a casino on the local reservation).

I think Dolph has a good eye for shooting action and doesn't get too carried away with boring camera gimmicks (he does like slo-mo though). I'm not fond of the washed-out flavor MISSIONARY MAN's director of photography chose, but at least he didn't pump the colors way up. He also doesn't mind getting the screen a little bloody, though he saves the worst gore for the end of the picture and builds up to it.

What should be mentioned is how much MISSIONARY MAN cribs from BILLY JACK, right down to the scene where Dolph tells his foe he's gonna take this knee and break that nose and there's not a damn thing you're gonna be able to do about it. It also has a touch of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER; it's suggested that Lundgren's character is the reincarnation of a man killed years previously by a biker (who's played by John Enos III, who looks like the actor you get when Daniel Baldwin is too stoned to work).

As Lundgren, who most memorably fought it out with the Italian Stallion as uber-Russkie Ivan Drago in ROCKY IV, turns 50 years of age, his facial features, as well as his acting skills, have sharpened. While his MISSIONARY MAN is a typically tight-lipped action hero, Lundgren is charismatic and manages to project a lived-in demeanor that has so far eluded most of his action-star contemporaries. Good score by Elia Cmiral. This actually played theatrically for a brief time in San Diego, but premiered in Dallas (near where it was shot).

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