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Expect No Mercy (1995)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

EXPECT NO MERCY (1995)

Starring: Billy Blanks, Jalal Merhi, Laurie Holden, Wolf Larson, Anthony De Longis, Michael Blanks

Written By: J. Stephen Maunder Directed By: Zale Dalen

The Short Version

Mid-90s Virtual Reality Fad, meet Cheap Video Store Era Chop Socky.

If you’re thinking peanut butter and chocolate, guess again.

There’s very little about Expect No Mercy that isn’t laughably bad.

The disembodied head of Jalal Merhi is coming for your soul.

Expect No Mercy has “Bad Movie Night” nostalgia appeal, but that’s about it.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

GRILLED CHEESE MADE WITH KRAFT SINGLES.

Easy to burn, made with virtual cheese.


Pairs Well With...

MILLER LITE.

It’s virtual beer.

“I love these chop socky movies, man!”


So, do you?  Love chop socky movies, I mean.  You do?  Great.  How about really bad movies?  Still cool?  Okay then; let’s put it all together.  How about really bad chop socky movies that come from the wonderland of Canadian filmmaking tax credits?

If you answered “yes” to all of these question, congratulations!  You are the target audience of Expect No Mercy!

If not…

Let’s be real here.  An argument can be made that it came down to coin flip as to whether to call this movie Expect No Mercy or Expect No Quality.  Nearly everything about this flick is stunningly bad, and even the stuff that is halfway decent gets crushed under the weight of the cheese.  If you’re up for a Bad Movie Night, there’s twisted fun to be had, but for the casual viewer… yeah.  Do yourself a favor and move on to the next title, because there is nothing for you to see here.

Now, for the dedicated die hards who remain…

Expect No Mercy centers around the “Virtual Arts Academy,” which, amazingly enough, is not a subsidiary of the University of Phoenix.  Instead, it’s a remarkably spacious martial arts school that may or may not bear a suspiciously strong resemblance to a Canadian college campus.  Through the magic of “Virtual Reality” instruction techniques, VAA promises to give its students the equivalent of twenty years’ worth of training and experience in less than two.  But the Federal Security Bureau (what? never heard of them?) thinks there’s something fishy about the school… especially after discovering the undercover agent they had investigating the place dead in a lagoon.  Their solution?  Send in yet another agent, Justin (Billy Blanks, The King of the Kickboxers), posing as a new student and cleverly using his own name, to make contact with still another deep cover snitch, Eric (Jalal Merhi, Operation Golden Phoenix), already inside.

I can’t imagine what sort of dirty deeds these guys might uncover, can you?  Especially after an opening sequence depicting a squad of assassins taking down a high profile target…

Roughly twenty years on (try not to think about that number), the Virtual Reality fad of the mid 1990s can seem downright silly.  Put on gloves and a helmet, and find yourself fully immersed in a world somewhere in between “Wolfenstein 3D” and the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” holodeck, depending upon the filmmaker’s ambition, but always with full sensory feedback, even (and sometimes especially) to parts of the body not encased in “VR” gear.  It’s one of those pieces of futurecasting which, instead of setting a story forward, sets it firmly in its time of origin.  For some audiences, this is a point of damnation, but for others, it’s a nostalgia hook.  I count myself in the latter group, which is how I manage to make it through the opening credits of Expect No Mercy without tossing my hands up in frustration, because these computer graphics are just ridiculously bad.  Do yourself a favor and treat them as a source of comedy; if you can, you’ll have something positive to hang onto throughout, but if you can’t… expect to drink heavily.

Once people become part of the VR, the experience switches from bad, blocky computer graphics to washed out lighting tricks, with the overall effect being something like box arcade knock offs of “Mortal Kombat.”  In a different context, this could have worked, but as it stands, the presentation and the story are just too ridiculous, even before the disembodied head of Jalal Merhi comes to steal your sou- er, offer sage advice to new students as the enter the world of VR combat.

Seriously, folks, that head is creepy.  I don’t know what it is about Merhi’s head specifically that does it here (the disembodied head of his fellow trainer isn’t creepy at all), but we’re talking “sketchy clown” territory.

But as I was saying, the floating head of Jalal Merhi aside, when all is said done, all of this VR stuff is just a gimmick, which would be fair if anything worthwhile was done with it, but writer J. Stephen Maunder completely drops the ball there.  The VR gimmick could be completely lifted out of the movie with no impact at all save to the film’s runtime; that’s how poorly integrated it is into the plot.  I get that the point is to do something to make Expect No Mercy stand out from the crowd, but how about putting just a wee bit more effort toward making that difference matter, huh?

Oh, and since I know you’re wondering…  Yes, virtual sex is mentioned, but no, you don’t get to see any.  There’s a brief flash of sideways nudity during the opening sequence when a woman drops her robe to dive into a pool, and that’s it.

So, now that the gimmick’s out of the way, what about the fighting?  That is, after all, supposed to be the main event, isn’t it?  If you’re a casual genre watcher, it looks decent enough; if you’ve seen more than a few of these things, it’s par for the course.  For me, there’s too much emphasis on the gimmickry and not enough on the combat, and when the combat does come to the fore, the choreography is a little too obvious.  (By that, I mean that the matches often don’t look natural.  What should be intense fights look like simple sparring until it’s time for someone to fall down, at which point the cues are telegraphed and the loser regularly starts to drop a half a beat too soon.  Some fights are better than others, of course, but overall?  Like I said, par for the course.)  And if you’re looking for some personality to go with your combatants, well…

As noted, our headliners are Billy Blanks and Jalal Merhi, and seasoned audiences know that they’re not exactly the most charismatic thespians out there.  They hold their own in the fight scenes, sure, but… well…  (Some slack can be cut for Mr. Blanks this time around, though.  It’s said that he took on the role on short notice after Olivier Gruner had to drop out… though that makes me wonder if, in turn, Billy’s brother Michael was cast as a henchman before or after the lead switch.  And yes, there is Blanks on Blanks action… though there are some continuity questions involved at that point.)  Standing opposite them as the main villain – cleverly named “Warbeck,” har har – is Wolf Larson (Hard Ticket to Hawaii), who spends the movie talking like William Shatner and looking and acting like an angry Bee Gee who just hates happiness on general principle.  Faring far better is Anthony De Longis (Fearless) as Damian, the chief henchman.  De Longis looks good when he fights, and he’s got the second best acting chops in the movie; indeed, he’s one of the few actors who looks to be having any fun here at all, thanks to his (perhaps conscious, perhaps not) attempt to channel Vernon Wells from Commando.  (The channel’s picking up some static, but it works.)  The only performer to fare better than him is the film’s leading lady, Laurie Holden (Fantastic Four), who outclasses this flick by leaps and bounds; a fact that seems to have been noticed by the director, since her character gets marginalized down from “really interesting character” to “hot blonde” to “helpless damsel in distress” as soon as she threatens to upstage the leading men.  Pity, that.

And yet, for all of the cheese, for all of the gimmicks, for all of the mediocrity, and for all of the missed opportunities, Expect No Mercy retains that intangible quality (or perhaps better put, intangible lack of quality) that makes it a good fit for “Bad Movie Night” material.  No, it’s not a good movie, but if you walk in with the right mindset – or at least enough cheap beer – it’s bad in an entertaining enough fashion to be serviceable.  Or to flip a certain nostalgia switch.  Or at least to give insomniacs with Canadian cable subscriptions a fair way to pass the wee hours.

Bottom line, Expect No Mercy is pretty easy to skip for the casual viewer, but for genre die hards, insomniacs, and people who really miss stumbling into the video store less than an hour before close, there are worse things out there.

At least until you go to sleep and the disembodied head of Jalal Merhi sneaks into your dreams and steals your soul.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, February, 2014


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