Expect No Mercy (1995)

Reviewed by Scott Blasingame
May 28, 2016


Billy Blanks • Jalal Merhi • Wolf Larson • Laurie Holden • Anthony De Longis • Michael Blanks
Zale Dalen
Billy Blanks • Jalal Merhi • Michael Chow • Anthony De Longis
Full screen. English language.

Expecting this movie to have award-winning acting, a compelling plot, mind-boggling special f/x, and hair-raising action? Yeah, that ain’t happening. Expecting this movie to have best effort/campy acting, a barely serviceable plot, special FX that could be from an ancient Atari game system, and a decent amount of solid martial arts action? Well, alright then. Now we’re all in the same boat.

EXPECT NO MERCY is a movie that confuses itself to some degree. Not with any obvious plot holes, though there are a couple, but just in its presentation. It has a present day setting, but also certain futuristic trappings. No, that’s not right. Futuristic allusions. Wait, no…see, what I mean? It just kind of hints at something futuristic, but it’s not. I guess there were budget constraints. (In fact, I know there were. Just wait till we discuss  the special FX.)

Virtual Arts Academy is a training facility run by Warbeck (Wolf Larson), who breeds his own cult of personality and uses his trainees as assassins for hire. His training consists of not only “hands on” physical contact practice, but also VR (virtual reality) battle simulations where a trainee has to work his way up through levels, thus gaining experience just like playing a video game. His top henchmen are Damian (Anthony De Longis), who uses a whip, and Spyder (Michael Blanks).

When a federal agent investigating Warbeck is killed, the authorities go to Justin (Billy Blanks), who is a trainer of agents, as well as being one himself. He is sent into VAA to link up with Eric (Jalal Merhi), another Fed already inside Warbeck’s organization. Once inside, Justin goes through some of the VR training (like he really needs it). Soon he and Eric get together to sneak into Warbeck’s main computer room to access his files and gather evidence. However, they are discovered by Vicki (Laurie Holden), another VAA trainer who has befriended Eric. She blows the whistle on them, only realizing too late that was a mistake due to what Warbeck is doing. The three of them escape the VAA compound to foil an attempt by Warbeck’s assassins on a federal witness for a client. Unfortunately, Vicki gets captured, forcing Justin and Eric to return to the academy to rescue her and bring down Warbeck’s criminal enterprise at the same time.

The plot is pretty bare bones, which is fine with me. For a movie like this, I don’t need the story to twist my brain. Just get me from one action scene to the next, thank you very much. Everyone gets to ham it up with quips and one-liners. But really this needed fewer comedy chops and more actual ones. (I mean some of them make you groan out loud. Maybe that’s what the title is referring to?

And just as bare bones as the plot, are the special FX. Look, I remember renting this on VHS from Blockbuster or Movie Gallery back in the mid-90’s, and these graphics were horrendous then, so it’s not a matter of it being 20 odd years since the film was made. There’s a computer segment at the beginning that takes the viewer through a city, and it’s laughably mundane. Where they tried to spice things up was during the VR fights. These contained actual people, but they are sometimes washed out by being too bright and glittery, and the backdrops just look flat. There’s no depth of feel. And every simulation is a different fighter, and warrants a wardrobe change. (Can you say gaudy? Oh, brother.) And I’ll tell you this now- these are the worst fights in the film, with the exception of one, and that is when Blanks takes on a ninja. Fortunately, they are all very short. (There’re those budget constraints again.)

Wolf  Larson plays Warbeck as scenery-eating egomaniac, even having his own little Hitler moment as he stands above his followers and spouts his rhetoric, which is nothing you haven’t heard before. So he keeps it brief. (Good for him. His men don’t kill people with boredom, and neither does he.)

Seeing a young Laurie Holden was a treat. She’s better known these days for her role as Andrea on AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD. She’s a pretty girl, and classes up all her scenes. Why, she even gets to throw a kick or two, and acquits herself well.

Jalal Merhi…man, I don’t mind his acting, but I seem to remember him being a better screen fighter than this. He doesn’t come across as very fluid. His choreography in this is very hit and miss. (Oh, pun!) He over-extends at times, and seems to miss his marks (or either the camera placement was a little off). I’d have to say his best fight performance is at the end when he is pitted against De Longis, and the only problem there is that Merhi’s kicks get a little monotonous after a while.

But it is Billy Blanks who really has the best performance here. Sadly, not even he can really spice up his VR fights, but everything else is quite enjoyable to watch. He looks good and powerful, especially when executing some of his high-flying bootwork. He has three outstanding fights, two of them towards the end. The first has him facing off against a bunch of enforcers. It’s full of good kicks, a few nice combos, and even a little staff work, though it’s nothing special. He demonstrates great reach, range, and power. The second, and probably best fight in the movie, is against his brother Michael (who appears in the movie DRAGON FIRE also). It’s a good throwdown between two evenly matched opponents. There’s quite a lot of flashy kicks and good impacts, and at one point Billy just gets to whale on him. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the finishing move. Could’ve been better. Finally, there is Blanks against Larson, who sells his part of the fight, though he’s not much of a screen fighter. His repertoire consists mainly of forearm smashes and crescent kicks. Blanks is like a jackrabbit,  jumping up to unleash lethal legs with killer kicks. Honestly, for me, his fights throughout the movie contain quite a few re-watchable moments just to watch him catch some air.

It’s a movie full of flaws, but with a few shining moments. I certainly wouldn’t consider it one of Blanks’ best films. In fact, it may be his worst, but only from the standpoint of considering the film as a whole. But for his part, he delivers some solid choreography, and there’s the novelty of seeing him and his brother duke it out. But if you’re expecting me to say “You just really need to see EXPECT NO MERCY or you’re missing out on a great martial arts/B action movie”, then you should expect no such thing.