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The Peacekeeper
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE PEACEKEEPER (1997)

Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Montel Williams, Michael Sarrazin, Roy Scheider, Christopher Heyerdahl

Written By: Stewart Harding Directed By: Frederic Forestier

The Short Version

Dolph does Die Hard meets The Rock meets a much smaller budget!

It’s actually better than it sounds, and the car chase is unreal.

Michael Sarrazin plays a convincing villain without having to move around much.

Dolph’s backup is Montel Williams.  How can that not be worth a couple bucks on its own?

If you like Dolph or if you want a twist on the cheesy action of the Direct to Video Golden Age, you’ll like The Peacekeeper.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

PIZZERIA PRETZEL COMBOS.

Pretzel cylinders filled with a processed cheese by-product you probably don’t want to think about too hard.  Who cares what’s really in them, anyway?  They taste great; I know I’ve polished off many a bag while watching videos like this late at night.


Pairs Well With...

MOLSON ICE.

Cheap Canadian beer that’s always good for a party.  I laughed when I saw Dolph drive through a billboard for this stuff in “Chicago.”

“This stuff’s not going to keep me awake.  Better give me something with a little punch.”


Ah, the Direct to Video Golden Age.  If something made it big at the theatre, you could be sure that over the course of the next two years or so, the video store shelves (and some overseas theatres) would fill up with derivative, smaller budget knock-offs.  That may sound like a damnation, but really, it’s not.  Many of us remember this era fondly, and “knocked off” many a late night cold one while enjoying these flicks.

In the case of The Peacekeeper, the original blueprint was The Rock, and then someone decided to tack on a little “Die Hard in a nuclear missile silo” just for kicks.  Not that its origins really matter, of course, because realistically, the primary reason that anyone ever did or ever will watch The Peacekeeper is the line that says “starring Dolph Lundgren.”  Anything else is just a bonus.  Fortunately for Dolph fans, there’s a surprising amount of bonus upside to this one.

As our story begins, we find Air Force Major Frank Cross (Dolph Lundgren, Blackjack) flying some stock footage of a cargo plane, along with some insert shots of a bundle in the back.  Eventually, the bundle drops, and we soon learn from newspaper headlines that appear beneath the opening credits that it contained enough rice to feed ten thousand Kurdish refugees.  (Apparently, this was magic rice that expands a lot more than usual when cooked.)  The newspapers think Cross is a hero, but the brass wants to court martial him for violating orders.  In the end, he’s saved by politics.  It turns out that President Bob Baker (Roy Scheider, Jaws) is having some trouble with his reelection campaign, and he figures that the PR boost of adding a public hero to his staff couldn’t hurt.  Thus, as the President campaigns in Chicago, Cross begins his new life as the guy who carries the “black bag”: the suitcase that contains the codes and equipment necessary for the President to authorize a nuclear strike.

As it turns out, Cross has himself a hell of a first day.  While the President is off getting some nookie in another room, terrorists show up and steal the black bag from Cross.  Now he’s got to get it back – and get someone to change the nuclear launch codes – before the terrorists can authorize themselves a missile strike.  Can he do it?  Come on, guys; this is Dolph we’re talking about here…

Even as a dedicated fan, one rarely expects anything that a normal person might classify as “good” to come out of the direct to video pile.  That’s why it’s such a special treat when it actually happens.  Such is the case with The Peacekeeper.  Established Dolph fans were almost certainly destined to enjoy it anyway, but this is one that even the uninitiated can have fun with.  No, this doesn’t mean that it quite hits the level where it could have made a major go of it as a mainstream theatrical release, but with a little more money behind it… damn, it’s close.

I guarantee that it’s not what the average person is going to expect out of a Dolph Lundgren movie.

What do I mean by that?  The Peacekeeper is an action movie only the looser sense of the term; it lands in that category by default.  Oh, sure, there’s action, but not nearly as much as you’re expecting (there are a total of two explosions, and one of them is stock footage)… and that’s okay.  Instead, The Peacekeeper is driven by things like story, pacing, and (gasp!) acting.  I know that this may come as a shock, but I swear that it’s all true.

Despite its derivative nature (news flash: pretty much every story out there is derivative anyway), the plot of The Peacekeeper is actually very well written, given acceptance of its premise that the “black bag” (which everyone else on the planet calls “the football”) is that easy to steal and take advantage of (which, frankly, any James Bond fan should be able to do in his or her sleep).  The story is tight, and any minor side trips it takes are just that – minor – and always end up serving some other character purpose.  The “demonstration that the bad guys are serious” is inspired, and actually carries some depth if one considers the villain.  That villain’s motivations, once revealed, are very nicely conceived, as is the subplot involving the full extent of his demands with regard to the President.  And as with any decent 1990s action movie, it takes itself just seriously enough to keep the thrills effective, but has the good sense to wink when things get ludicrous.  (When Dolph survives an eight storey fall without a scratch by landing on top of a street person’s makeshift shelter built from mattresses and blankets, even the street person has the sense to exclaim “You gotta be goddamn well kidding me!”  That’s worth a laugh, and it doesn’t kill the action at all.)

Unlike the majority of 1990s action flicks, however, The Peacekeeper doesn’t go nuts very often.  The firefights are basic (but not dull), and the fist fights are pretty standard fare without any fancy Shaolin monk stylings.  As noted already, unless you’re counting the fire and noise that goes along with a ballistic missile launch, things only go “boom” in a big way twice.  You might suspect that action fans would have cause for disappointment there, but it doesn’t happen, because 1) the story’s too good, and 2) the director keeps things moving at such a relentless pace that the pacing itself becomes the movie’s major action element.  The Peacekeeper never stops moving, and doesn’t most people’s definition of “action” involve “motion” anyway?  This is one flick where good work from the director’s chair pays dividends.

With that said, The Peacekeeper makes up for keeping most of its action on the sane side by going all-out preposterous with its one major car chase sequence.  What makes this chase sequence between two relatively beat-up cars so insane?  Like the real estate people say, it’s all about location, location, location.  In this case, the location is a series of unconnected rooftops above what’s supposed to be the outskirts of Chicago (but which is really the outskirts of Montreal).  I’m not talking paved rooftops, either.  It may start on the top floor of a high rise parking garage, but from there, the cars jump over wide alleys from rooftop to rooftop for a surprisingly long time, often having to break through brick railings and the occasional billboard to do it.  (Even the characters involved can’t seem to believe what they’re doing, which makes it all the more fun.)  This chase really has to be seen to be believed, and it is riotously fun to watch.  (Again, good direction pays dividends.)  I’ll certainly take this one awesome chase over a few extra explosions any day.

The other element that makes The Peacekeeper play so well is the one thing that most people automatically assume is going to stink the worst: the acting.  Starting at the top, Dolph Lundgren has always been underappreciated outside of his dedicated core fan base, and that’s a shame, because once again, he proves that there’s way more to what he can do than we saw when he first caught our attention as the monosyllabic punching machine in Rocky IV.  His portrayal makes Frank Cross instantly likable and just as importantly instantly believable as a character.  He takes Cross beyond the stock shelf and turns him into a real person you’d want to have a beer with, which even with this script was never a given.  He kicks ass whenever the need arises and he delivers one liners with the best of them, but really, his greatest strength here is in playing the hero who doesn’t look or sound like a caricature.

Backing him up – and yeah, I did a double take, too, even though I’d seen it before – is talk show celebrity Montel Williams, who told Dolph that even if he didn’t get paid right away, he could just head over to Money Mut- er, no, that’s not it.  Actually, Williams plays the commanding officer of a nuclear missile silo that’s about to be decommissioned.  I know that this sounds like it should be a disaster – I was waiting for it, too – but as it so happens, it plays out beautifully, thanks to a screenplay that has his character serve as the voice of nuclear politics.  Williams holds his own as an actor, and his “motivational talk show” experience lends very well his delivery of some of the neatest tricks that the script has to offer, during the course of which his character ably represents both the “peace through strength” side of things and the “even having these missiles around is insane” camp (thanks to his character talking one way to the troops and another way in private).  Again, it sounds like a tightrope, but Williams is up to the challenge, and perhaps even more importantly, so is the script.  The politics are necessary to the plot, but their presentation comes across more as background information than preaching, which is how it should be.  Even the 400 pound hot potato in the room won’t get in the way of a good story here.

Moving on to the President, I admit that I had my reservations about Roy Scheider at first.  When you first meet the character, all of the indications of a “two scene cameo and goodbye” scenario seem to be there, but as things unfold, that notion couldn’t be further from the truth.  While it’s unlikely that it took very long to film the part, he’s definitely got a pivotal role to play, and indeed, it’s Scheider who ends up having the film’s most dramatic moment (which I won’t spoil here).  The one vexing thing though is why he chooses to speak with a bogus drawl that makes it sound like he’s channeling Bush Senior when that guy had already been old news for several years when this movie was filmed.  If you know how Scheider normally sounds, the accent’s distracting at first, though the distraction fades fast once the third act comes to the fore.  In the end, what you’ve got here is not just a famous guy phoning it in; Scheider is very much earning his paycheck.

Stealing the show, however, is Michael Sarrazin (Midnight in St. Petersburg) as our villain, and he does so while barely ever having to get out of his chair.  In his case, it’s all about presence, and Sarrazin’s got it in spades.  The blinded eye that the make-up department gave him adds to the creepiness, sure, but just the sound of his voice as he coldly discusses arming nuclear missiles and shooting them at people is down-to-the-nerves chilling.  He’s no fighter in this movie – yeah, he shoots someone, but I wouldn’t call it a firefight – but he doesn’t have to be.  He’s just very efficiently in command and in control, and the results are far more riveting than any fan of these movies is likely to expect.  You’ll show up to see Dolph Lundgren – and Dolph will be worth it – but Michael Sarrazin’s really going to stick with you when it’s over.

And this brings us full circle with regard to just what kind of movie The Peacekeeper really is.  Again, it’s called action by default, and I’m certainly not going to argue about the classification.  But when it’s finished, that may not be what you remember a week later.  If you do, then it’s going to be the car chase that grabbed you, and that’s fine.  However, when all is said and done, The Peacekeeper is also one of those flicks that makes the audience think.  I’m not spoiling anything when I tell you that there’s an exchange near the end wherein someone asks who was responsible for what happened, and the answer is “Einstein.”  Sure, you could just let The Peacekeeper go in one eyeball and out the other, but you’ll be missing something if you do.

Bottom line, The Peacekeeper is way better than even most die-hard Dolph Lundgren fans are likely to expect.  Bucking a lot of the trends of the Direct to Video Golden Age, The Peacekeeper runs at a quick and in its own way relentless pace without relying on a whole lot of big blast action scenes to speed it on its way.  Yeah, there’s awesome car chase, but this is one flick where the script, the direction, and the acting win the day, and you know what?  Sometimes, those can be fun, too.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, January, 2012


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