Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

JCVD-A-THON: The Shepherd: Border Patrol (2008)

Isaac Florentine has worked his way up through the world of low budget action movies. He made films with reliable B-list stars like Olivier Grunner, Antonio Sabata Jr., Gary Daniels and Dolph. (In addition to directing countless episodes of “Power Rangers” and “WMAC Masters.”) Florentine would find his brawny muse in the form of Scott Adkins, turning each other into cult favorites in the process. It was probably inevitable that Florentine would make a film with Van Damme. Despite the unwieldy title, “The Shepherd: Border Patrol” is another movie that is better than its direct-to-video release would suggest.

Along the Mexican/American border, something fishy is going on. A rogue group of disenfranchised Iraq War vets have taken over the local drug business, driving out the Mexican cartels. They outfit their drug mules with explosive vests, increasing the danger. The border patrol brings in Jack Robideaux, a New Orleans cop, to investigate. Turns out Robideaux has a personal grudge to settle with the drug dealers. His quest for vengeance soon takes him to Mexico, where he and his partner are right in the middle of the cartel's business. Much fighting and shooting ensues.

What distinguishes Isaac Florentine's films from standard direct-to-video drivel is the director's hard-hitting action scenes. Florentine knows how to please action fans. An early scene in “The Shepherd” has Van Damme getting into a bar room brawl just to establish he's a bad-ass. Later, there's a gloriously gratuitous fight scene between Jean-Claude and a prisoner in a Mexican jail. This fine line between gritty and ridiculous hits its peak when the bad guys outfit a bus – currently occupied with nuns and priests – with machine guns, leading to an explosion and car crash filled chase. Florentine makes sure each blow is felt by the audience. Limbs are snapped. Enemies are flipped. Bodies are twisted. Florentine often emphasizes Van Damme and Scott Adkins' acrobatic finishing moves with slow-motion. That would be tacky if it wasn't done to punctuate the sheer power of these attacks. Florentine's direction combines flashier modern techniques with old school-style wallop.

As a Van Damme movie, “The Shepherd” is similar in tone to “Wake of Death.” Jack Robideaux is a tired guy. His failures and mistakes – specifically the death of his daughter – weigh heavily on his mind. He doesn't know if it's possible to find any inner peace but avenging this mistake is his best chance. However, “The Shepherd” is way more upbeat than “Wake of Death” and the like. First off, Van Damme has a pet bunny to keep him company. Yeah, the rabbit is connected to his dead daughter. However, the contrast of Van Damme's serious character and his cutesy bunny rabbit lightens the mood considerably. He also tells a handful of jokes, when refusing a bribe from a crook, going on a quasi-date with a drunk lady, or getting coffee spilled on his shirt. It's not Van Damme's best role but does play on his built-in charm more than some of his other recent films.

It also helps that JCVD has some decent chemistry with the supporting cast. For most of the film, Van Damme is paired up with Gary McDonald's Agent Pawnell or Natalie Robb's Captain Garcia. McDonald is nicely chummy while Robb's feminine but tough energy compliments Van Damme very well. The scenes focused on the two of them, trading quibs and having adventures, makes “The Shepherd” feel a bit like a buddy cop movies. The villains are strongly acted too. Stephen Lord is nicely sleazy as the leader of the rogue marines. However, Scott Adkins really steals the show. Adkins manages to be intimidating with minimal dialogue. His deadly kicks and take downs speak for him. The true climax of the film is the amazing, knock-down, drag-out fight between Van Damme and Adkins. (Though Lord does get an amusingly absurd death scene.)

Trying to find some sort of political or social statement in low budget action flicks like this is a fools' errand. However, it's clear something is going on inside “The Shepherd's” head. There's plenty of room in the story for a more traditional, exploitative tale of “good American cops fight evil Mexican drug cartel.” Making the villains American soldiers changes the context. Florentine seems to linger on this decision, forcing American flags and other patriotic imagery into the foreground. Of course, the film's hero is played by a Belgium, while his female sidekicks is of mixed heritage. Is “The Shepherd” some sort of comment on the frequently hypocritical way Americans treat people from other countries? I'm not sure but it certainly makes the film interesting.

“The Shepherd: Border Patrol” ended up being a pretty awesome little action flick, with fantastically orchestrated fight scenes and some charming writing decisions. It'll probably help if you keep your expectations fairly low. And if you're a fan of Van Damme and Adkins' strain of old school action theatrics. For that perhaps thin demographic, “The Shepherd” is surprisingly satisfying. It's fitting that Adkins and Van Damme would work together. The younger star clearly idolizes Jean-Claude, patterning his own fighting style after the Muscles from Brussels. They've done other films together since this one and will hopefully team up again soon. Watching the two tussle was certainly a highlight of this movie. [8/10]

[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 3 outta 5]
[X] An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[] Dancing
[] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick

No comments: