We here at the ISCFC are long-time haters of Jalal Merhi. He’s perhaps the worst actor to ever headline multiple movies – he made his money from his family’s jewel business and plowed all that cash into making his own starring vehicles, always producing them, and often directing too. It’s really hard to over-emphasise just how bad an actor he is, though, seemingly unable to portray any emotion or deliver a line in anything other than a monotone.
But, he knows how to surround himself with actors we like, and he’s at least competent as a director, so here we are, on our…tenth?…Merhi review. Today’s movie features David “not the British character actor” Bradley and Evan Lurie, both high-quality B-movie veterans, and tells a story of virtual reality, managing to get the future weirdly right (there’s a VR game coming out this year for the Oculus, PS4 and Steam called “I Expect You To Die”, coincidentally enough). Apart from the thing about VR killing people, I guess? Also, it’s not to be confused with the previous year’s “Expect No Mercy”, also about virtual reality being too powerful, also with people fighting inside it, also starring Merhi.
Things kick off with a military test of virtual reality software, where a soldier dies because the VR was too real – a solid standard 90s plot device. The guy who invented the software is Dr Vincent MacIntyre (Bradley, completely bizarrely miscast) and he’s furious that the military want to cancel the research; and he’s even furiouser that his company kicks him out because he’s a loose cannon. This is tied into his dead father, who was a Colonel who was framed for murder by the military establishment? This completely undeveloped plot thread makes “Expect To Die” feel like the sequel to an unmade movie.
Luckily, both the Army and the software company are okay with MacIntyre selling the software to a criminal, I think?
Hold on, I need to try and establish how confusing this whole thing is. There’s an illegal arms sale in a warehouse, where all these wealthy bad guys have women on their arms as nothing more than set dressing (Merhi is among the most sexist of the 90s action crowd, no mean feat), but one of the bad guys wants to pay for the merch with computer disks, which has “Expect To Die” on it. This is the game created by MacIntyre’s old company, but is a normal “Mortal Kombat” style fighting game – we learn this thanks to Merhi’s girlfriend, a computer programmer / plot device (she gets kidnapped later on). The virtual reality “game”, with the same name, is being developed in secret for some criminals, but why is either never mentioned or I wasn’t paying attention for those five seconds. How much profit is there in a game which just straight-up kills you?
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Merhi’s female partner gets shot (while in her underwear, for the flimsiest of reasons) so he needs a new partner. Evan Lurie! There’s a bunch of references to Lurie getting shot when they were partners before, which again leads me to believe this script is the sequel to something which never got made? Anyway, Lurie tries his best with the dead weight of his co-star but it’s tough at times.
What’s most important to note about this movie is it’s a complete ego trip for Jalal Merhi. He’s got a gorgeous female partner but he’s devoted to his wife; he’s also the best martial artist in the world. Want to know how I know this? Evan Lurie, a talented screen fighter, only has one fight scene, and David Bradley, who was the star of an entire action franchise, doesn’t fight at all. Can’t distract from the star! Merhi kicks ass all over the place, of course, and even shows off how buff he is in the VR bootcamp program he’s plugged into, but even then, there’s a weirdly small amount of martial arts in a movie with three martial arts stars as the top billed actors, especially as the plot seems designed to have fighting in it?
This is a really bad one. Even though it’s got two great action stars in it, it uses them terribly – Lurie really ought to have had a few starring roles, not second banana to a charisma-vacuum like Merhi; and it’s interesting seeing Bradley as the bad guy, even if he’s given a really weird character. But everything else just feels like it was thrown together at the last minute, mostly at random. The number of dropped plot threads might be, in the hands of anyone with a modicum of skill, a joke in and of themselves, but here you’re pretty certain they just didn’t consider why anyone would care about anything other than Merhi being the ultimate badass.
Definitely one of the more confusing 90s action B-movies. Worth watching for that purpose? I don’t know. Merhi’s previous directorial effort, “Operation Golden Phoenix”, was quite good, and “Expect No Mercy” was at least fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. This is po-faced, not very exciting and probably not worth your time (even if it is available for free).
Rating: thumbs down