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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The first time I saw Dolph Lundgren‘s 1995 stinker Men of War, I was barely into high school and I had only seen a few other rated-R movies in my young life. Being new to the greatness of the R rating, I was pretty forgiving of even the most awful of movies as long as it contained copious violence and partial nudity. Men of War definitely fits into the category of “awful” — but it also has that bloody good violence I enjoy so much.
Released onto video in 1995, Men of War stars Lundgren as Nick Gunar, a down-on-his luck soldier of fortune who takes on one last mission in order to finally make enough money to find an elusive peace, reunite with his family, and live happily ever after. Like any other cliched action movie, he puts together a ragtag team of hotshot mercenaries who serve as a collection of tough guy stereotypes (along with the token tough girl stereotype). The mission? Lundgren must lead his team to an island in the South China Sea and secure it so that Greedy Corporation #1 can mine its resources and exploit its native inhabitants.
Of course along the way Lundgren doubts himself, falls in love with beautiful activist Charlotte Lewis, changes sides to support the natives, and eventually draws a line in the sand (quite literally) — those who support him can stay and help the natives and those who do not can leave the island forever (with pay!). And of course this leads to an ultimate showdown pitting friend against friend and brother against brother. And I’ll leave it up to the viewer to see for him or herself whether or not Lundgren can defend the natives and win the day (spoiler alert: he can).
Men of War is an interesting beast. It was co-written by John Sayles, the man responsible for such films as 8 Men Out and the Academy Award-nominated Lone Star. Sayles cut his teeth in the industry working for Roger Corman, meaning he also had his hand in such schlock as Piranha, Alligator, and other gems of the 1970s and 80s. When I first read about Men of War, it was set up as a sort of serious, The Killing Fields-esque character drama. I can assure you it is not this at all. Men are killed in Men in the most hilarious of methods, including by fiery rocket recoil, being stabbed with a bone, and being dragged by the neck out into the sea. Sayles and director Perry Lang may have aimed for a serious discussion on greed and the state of the world economy, but their pedigree and low budget (as well as Lundgren and the rest of the cast’s acting ability) places them squarely in direct-to-video territory.
I knew a few of the actors from other films. I had seen Tom “Tiny” Lister, Jr. in a few movies (notably, the Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred) and Trevor Goddard had recently starred in Mortal Kombat, a film I will probably cover in this feature at some point. These two men stuck out amongst the rest of the cast, particularly Goddard’s vengeful psychopath (playing basically the same role as Vernon Wells in any movie ever, but mostly channeling Bennett from Commando). Lister, Jr. plays the brooding, giant-of-a-man he has perfected throughout his career and while not great, stands out from the crowd due to his menacing size and violent character. Though I trashed him earlier, Lundgren does anchor the cast, if only because they’re so generically bad.
Other than a few performances and some terribly campy, laugh-worthy action sequences, I found a few other things about Men of War interesting. The Thai setting is absolutely gorgeous. Nowadays a film like this would probably be set more locally (Hawaii or Mexico more than likely), and while there is nothing wrong with this, Thailand is just much more exotic and distinct to me. I also found a lot to laugh at in this film, as mentioned earlier. The film takes itself way too seriously, making for several laugh-out-loud sequences, including the greedy corporation’s true reveal for attacking the island: to harvest bat shit for fertilizer. Yes, this is truly why scores of people are murdered brutally in Men of War. In this universe, guano is truly gold. In a way, that’s kind of how I feel about Men of War as a whole.
Next up in 1995, Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison.