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Thursday, May 9, 2013

MISSIONARY MAN -- movie review by porfle

(This review originally appeared online at in 2007.)

I love pleasant surprises. So when MISSIONARY MAN (2007), an Andrew Stevens production starring and co-written by Dolph Lundgren--and directed by Dolph Lundgren--surpassed all my expectations and turned out to be a really good flick, I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

Of course, it's derivative as hell, borrowing either small details or entire chunks out of several earlier movies such as SHANE, BILLY JACK, LAST MAN STANDING, THE STRANGER, and especially HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and PALE RIDER. Those titles alone should give you a pretty good idea of the plot, which takes place in a small southwestern town populated by whites and native Americans and run by an tyrannical redneck named Reno (Matthew Stephens Tompkins) whose auto dealership is a front for drug trafficking and other sordid activities.

When a young Indian named J.J. is murdered by Reno's men for interfering in their business, a mysterious, Bible-reading stranger named Ryder (Dolph) cruises into town on his Harley to attend the funeral of his friend and starts kicking ass and taking names all over the place. He befriends J.J.'s family, including a young sister named Kiowa (the cute and talented Chelsea Ricketts), which comes in handy when Reno orders the entire family's execution for interfering with his plans to have a big, juicy casino built on the reservation.

Reno's large stable of thugs gives Ryder plenty of lowlifes to kick the crap out of, and the following pre-fight exchange should sound awfully familiar to anyone who's seen BILLY JACK:

"What'cha gonna do now, preacherman?"

"Well...I'm gonna ask you to beg the Good Lord's forgiveness. But not before I take this knee...and break that nose. And you know what?"


"There ain't nothin' you can do about it."

Hints of Ryder's possible supernatural origin abound, which is where the film is most similar to the Eastwood western HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (they share almost identical closing shots) and its cycle-chick descendant THE STRANGER. At one point J.J.'s wise old uncle White Deer solemnly intones, "Our ancestors always spoke of a man who would come from the north, followed by an eagle..." There's also evidence that Ryder may very well be the ghost of a murdered man seeking revenge. A scene in which he revisits someone from his past, a crippled man who hands him a shotgun and says "This is the gun they shot you with", is left curiously unexplained.

Dolph Lundgren gives a solid performance as the taciturn hero, bringing to mind a less cartoony and more benevolent version of SIN CITY's "Marv." How is he as a director? Well, for a guy who's been in a ton of action scenes, Dolph doesn't quite have the hang of directing them himself. There's no fight choreography to speak of, just a bunch of quick cuts that don't always add up just right. Otherwise, with the exception of a few sloppy tracking shots and some other iffy moments, Dolph does an impressive job. The color has been drained out to the extent that the film often looks almost as sepia-toned as the bookend segments of THE WIZARD OF OZ, which was fine with me after I got used to it.

MISSIONARY MAN also reminded me of Walter Hill's LAST MAN STANDING, not only visually and storywise but in the deliberate pacing. (The character of the morally-ambivalent sheriff who eventually takes a stand against the bad guys is also common to both films.) Dolph the director is in no rush to get from one visceral thrill to the next, giving the story and characters plenty of breathing room. With a pace like this, the action scenes have to pay off big to justify the long build-up in between, and here we get enough bone-crunching violence to keep things entertaining.

As in SHANE, the main bad guy sends for help when the good guy proves invincible. But instead of a lone gunman, we get an entire biker gang (shades of PALE RIDER) led by a hardcore badass named Jarfe. This is where the movie really takes off. Jarfe busts Reno's balls for letting things get so screwed up, then starts blowing away deputies and civilians alike as he works his way to the final confrontation with Ryder, which doesn't disappoint. Dolph may not direct fistfights all that well but he does shootouts just fine, and this one gets pretty graphic. John Enos III does a fantastic job as Jarfe, and the scene where he enjoys regailing a cowering victim with the origin of his weird name before blasting him is a highlight. The rest of the cast is consistently good as well.

This movie does have its faults, and it's doubtful that it will ever attain classic status, but for me it was a lot of fun to watch. As long as you don't require a thrill-a-minute and feel like settling in for a solid action flick that reaches its inevitable conclusion in its own sweet time, MISSIONARY MAN is worth sticking with all the way.

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