Two more examples of this phenomenon can be found in Billy Blanks and Jalal Merhi, the two leads of today’s film. The launch of Blanks – a marital artist turned bodyguard turned actor – to a leading action man took many by surprise. One year he was a henchmen or villain (BLOODFIST  and THE KING OF THE KICKBOXERS ) and the next year he is suddenly cast as the hero (TALONS OF THE EAGLE ). If Blanks’ good guy turn and direct-to-video ascent was unexpected, the arrival of his co-star was positively startling. Jalal Merhi didn’t ease into the action business as much as he just appeared. One day you just suddenly found yourself staring at a video box with Merhi – a Lebanese jewelry dealer from Canada turned martial artist turned actor – on the cover, declaring him to be an action star. Hey, it worked for David Heavener. And besides, Merhi could throw a kick so all was good.
Concurrent to the rise of the direct-to-video action star was another one of Hollywood’s flavor of the month obsessions: virtual reality. Sure, films like TRON (1982) and BRAINSTORM (1983) had introduced computer controlled worlds to the mainstream audiences, but the sickness didn’t really grab a hold until the first half of the 1990s. In addition to pissing Stephen King off, Brett Leonard’s THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992) proved that computer created environs were feasible enough for audiences. Soon the market was flooded with VR titles like ARCADE (1993), GHOST IN THE MACHINE (1993), BRAINSCAN (1994), JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1994), Leonard’s VIRTUOSITY (1995), HACKERS (1995), STRANGE DAYS (1995), and the mainstream nadir DISCLOSURE (1994), which virtually (haha) killed the genre by featuring a virtual Demi Moore stalking Michael Douglas. Don’t believe me? Have a look:
As you can see, that is about as technically relevant today as my laserdisc collection. Anyway, the point of all this is you just knew these two ideas – direct-to-video action and virtual reality – were going to eventually bump into each other. Sure enough, they did in EXPECT NO MERCY (1995).
Bruceploitation review site, but that was before this poor child was struck down with a crippling case of Lazyitus. Anyway, he wrote to me telling me how EXPECT NO MERCY was the best film he had ever seen and that I should review it. The saddest part about this whole thing? I had a VHS copy sitting on my “too be watched” pile. Truth be told, if I had watched this back in 1995 I probably would have hated it. I was stuck in a worship of Hong Kong cinema back then and if it didn’t have Jackie Chan doing death-defying stunts, I wasn’t down. Watching this today, I enjoyed the picture for what it is. In addition to being physically fit, Blanks is a very solid martial artist. His moves are done a bit of a disservice in the virtual reality world but he does get in two good fights at the end, including one against his brother Michael Blanks. Merhi also gets to show his moves and, as a Tae Kwon Do guy, he fares well onscreen. Now if only they had given his character a last name. Also decent is German actor Wolf Larsen as the villain. Well, in the fighting department at least as he is pretty over the top as the villain. Director Zale Dalen also stages some nice shoot outs and knows that bigger is better when it comes to explosions (watch for one bit where Merhi’s double gets singed as he is engulfed in flames while jumping out of an exploding house).
looks super cheap. Also, the film commits the ultimate virtual reality sin by not having a point-of-view scene where the lead sneaks around in the virtual reality world. Every VR related movie needs to have that bit where we get the POV of the character and then a big, clunky computer generated hand comes into the frame to grab something. To have that missing is a big no-no. I’m also not so sure about Dalen’s choices for what constitutes “scary” in the virtual reality world. I can understand a ninja or samurai, but an evil clown? Even worse, it is accompanied by a bunch of horn honking sound effects that make it laughably bad. It is the second goofiest VR creation I have seen after virtual Demi Moore.
All that said EXPECT NO MERCY is a fun way to kill 90 minutes. It takes you back to a time when every action movie wasn’t so damn serious. Damn, was 1995 really almost 20 years ago? Anyway, now I’m in the mood for some more Billy Blanks sci-fi. I guess I could watch TC 2000 (1993) if I had a copy…oh, there it is sitting right there. Or I can watch VIRTUAL COMBAT (1995) with Don “The Dragon” Wilson since I have that too. Thanks, Keith!