Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Package (2012)

Former special forces something or other Tommy Wick (Steve Austin) works as a thug and bouncer for moneylender and gangster Big Doug (Eric Keenleyside). Tommy doesn't enjoy his work much, but his brother - right now a convict - owes Big Doug so much money it's either Tommy working off his brother's debt or a dead brother.

Consequently, it's quite an exciting development for big meathead when Doug proposes a job that will wipe his brother's slate clean in one go. Tommy will just have to deliver a Kindle-sized package to a man only known as the German (Dolph "I'm from Sweden, damn it!" Lundgren) in Vancouver. Despite knowing the German from his black ops times, and not having parted ways from him on the best of terms, Tommy takes on the mission.

Of course, the small delivery job is more dangerous than Doug told our hero, so Tommy soon has his meaty fists full with various slightly freakish guys trying to kill him and steal the package. The way to Vancouver is long.

It'll come as no surprise to anyone even slightly acquainted with the field of contemporary direct-to-DVD action movies that second-billed and cover-sharing Dolph Lundgren is only playing a small-ish guest role in The Package, until the finale only popping in for a handful of scenes barely connected with the already quite episodically structured main plot. Fortunately, these few scenes are pretty great, at least if you like watching Lundgren (or a not always well-substituted stunt double) knifing guys, holding forth about vegetables to a guy who is bleeding to death or explaining the history of the martini to William B. "Cigarette Smoking Man" Davis. Seriously, what more could you want from Dolph Lundgren?

Surprisingly enough, director Jesse V. Johnson actually has even more to offer than just the opportunity of seeing Dolph do the same sort of thing his old colleague Jean-Claude Van Damme now earns his money with, just more bizarrely.

I'm not much of an admirer of Steve Austin. I don't like the meat-head type he embodies all that much, and - worse - I think he tends to dreg better action actors down when he's paired up with them with generally deeply mediocre performances in any and all non-wrestling based action scenes. It's also not very endearing that each and every one of his films has him sprouting some "patriotic" bullshit in at least one scene. So it's saying a lot that I not only enjoyed Austin's physical performance here, but actually sort of sympathized with his character, probably because the script does its best to make him vulnerable beyond "tough guy has a family". There's even a scene where our hero calls his boss and tries to just get out of the job like a real human being confronted with insane killers in his path would. It also helps that Johnson does actually know how to stage the scenes of people not killing one another quite effectively. Sure, the film won't ever win awards as a drama, but this is not one of those action movies where "dialogue scene" equals a reason to fast forward to the next shoot-out.

The action is frequent and entertaining, too. Johnson has a steady and straight-forward directing style that tends to put the emphasis on showing stunts instead of cutting to and fro so fast the audience can only assume there's some kind of stunt work or fighting going on, an old-fashioned and very satisfying way of filming the action.

The Package's secret weapon, and the main reason I truly enjoyed it, is its slight yet steady and utterly unrepentant weirdness. There's even a completely silly (and strange) idea making up the reason for Austin's travel towards Vancouver, though I'm not going to spoil that here. Yet even ignoring that very special element, and ignoring the perfectly strange scenes with Dolph, we learn a lot of remarkable stuff about the world and how it functions. Did you, for example, know that Steve Austin and his movie wife prefer to have sex to the lover's rock of Erik Satie?

There's a spirit of generosity running through The Package that is uncommon in the generally very stingy direct-to-DVD action genre. It's as if Johnson were some kind of action Santa Claus who just can't stop himself and not only pulls a decent number of good action scenes from his sack but then proceeds to add the weird humour and the technically accomplished filmmaking and a larger than usual number of locations and sets and some drama to try to ground everything. It might not be Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (what is?) but it sure is a fun film.

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