Friday, 24 June 2011

Rolf: The Last Mercenary

Rolf is shit, muddy, dirty and nonsensical shit, in which its own shortcomings come together to make a product that makes you want to wash once it's over. Coming out in 1983 as fast as possibly can in the wake of First Blood, this revenge tale (of course) borrows heavily from the Stallone vehicle, while the speed of its production really shows in the overall product. Being a slice of cash-in trash, rather than present a sympathetic look at a direly-treated war veteran, it plays out like a cruel observation of a character effectively having the world defecate on him every step of the way. It's not the filmic equivalent of watching someone kick a puppy, but it borders on that. Written and directed by Mario Siciliano, a man better known for his prior pornos, this surely says a lot about what we're in for.

The film follows Rolf, a mercenary-turned-commercial pilot living in an unnamed Middle Eastern town, who seems to shower rarely as proven by a dialogue between him and his girlfriend Joanna. The police don't get on with Rolf, it seems they don't like his past as a mercenary; is the film presenting a nationalistic friction between a caucasian ex-soldier and the people of a race he may have previously killed as some sort of social critique? Or is it just ripping off First Blood? They let him off, but not after they've stuck his hand into an unflushed toilet! Rolf is the standout among his former mercenary friends, who are led by John, one of the slimiest looking guys since before Clarence Boddicker, and his men in tow are a colourful bunch of vile bastards.

John offers Rolf the chance to make $50,000 exporting hard drugs. Rolf declines, but when John makes a crack about his dead mother he has none of it and bashes John's head against a wall before kicking him out! When Joanna hears about him passing up such a sum, he tells her a painful memory of how his prostitute mother was given a drug overdose in front of him by her pimp, along with a bit of expository dialogue on how he was the most athletic in college, but yeah, Rolf's a good clean guy. Rolf is later caught by his the entire group of his former friends; after the beating they give him, he resets his own knee in a real squirmer of a scene and he faints in a bush full of leeches! Police bias prevents them from putting a search out for Rolf, leaving Joanna to look for him on her own, the police do end up being nice enough to stop two rapists following her though! After she finds him, Rolf learns he has been fired from his job, so he gets together with a friend and hijacks a plane loaded with John's drugs, only to piss all over them and hurl them out! For this, John and his boys break into Joanna's home, and in a very uncomfortable sequence, take turns raping her; the frequent POV shots and the incredibly inappropriate porn-like theme in the background make it actually quite disturbing. The film at this point obviously does what you've been waiting for and kicks Rolf into Revenge mode, you can tell where this goes. 

Nothing nice ever happens to Rolf, in virtually every scene the poor man is shown to be suffering one way or another, from being picked on by every cop in town to having his girlfriend raped and murdered, to having his hands riddled with bullets and spending the rest of the film disabled. He is effectively played up to be Jesus, with the build laughably culminating in him raising his bloodied hands to the sky and begging "God, help me!", along with the final scene depicting him against the setting sun. Despite every scene being one ineptly-shot sequence chained together in the name of exploitation, there is a delightful dirtiness to it that could have perhaps been much more and could have elevated it to a bang rather than a sigh. The appalling production values work in its favour in a way if the intention was to upright create a grimey feature. No one is likable and some OTT touches nicely crank up the scum factor; one of the mercenaries is so abject he even steals his fallen comrade's watch and wallet, and then uses his blood as make-up to play dead! Their canteens are even loaded up with cocaine instead of water! The antics of the particularly venomous-looking John are interesting to say the least, he randomly beats up a woman in the street, then randomly forces a bottle down the mouth of another without anyone batting an eye, and then shoves away a woman trying to kiss him! She and her friend bizarrely don't stop though, and seem to pamper him in fondles. Hell, he's just a lonely, tortured soul, just listen to the pain in his voice when the police ask him about friends and he responds with "what friends? I don't know what you're talking about".

The ropey narrative as you would expect serves only to continually dish out brutalities; the film opens with a flashback of the mercenaries blurredly tearing up an entire village, but you would only guess this as soon as other flashbacks begin to pepper the story, depicting John and his goons using free-falling children as target practice and Rolf being the saviour behind their backs. A lack of polish leaves the many scenes of violence hollow, giving us only a poke not a punch. This is further held down by the general absence of background foley, on top of that the dubbing is lifeless and at times incoherent, mainly because the actors barely open their mouths more than a little. At times, it seems they don't even twitch their lips, and in one instance, Rolf opens his mouth fully to yell and the dubber's dialogue amusingly doesn't match up.

That said, the music by the great Fabio Frizzi also isn't very up to scratch, the most notable piece of music is however, Rolf's theme song! Yes, Rolf gets this soothing synth-rock melody play at some of the wrong times in the film, but the lyrics are irresistable, and it's the only thing credited in the end titles! As a bit of trivia, some poster art for the film shows Rolf holding a gun he never uses in the film, along with a blonde-haired Joanna clinging to his leg, this drawing of her however has been cribbed from the poster for Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet! Erase the music entirely, do away with the sillier elements and you would have something seedy enough to be on par with Day of the Woman/I Spit On Your Grave, this is for completionists of Italian exploitation only. In the immortal words of Rolf's theme song... Rolf, your vengeance can't die! The fire in your eyes, says it all!     
  • Action: 3/5
  • Brutality: The outline of it all is there
  • Natural lighting: 5/5 
-James, 14 November 2010 (original date)

Review source: Japanese VHS
Screenshot source: Japanese VHS

Title information

  • Production company: Metheus Film
  • Year of release: 1983
Alternate titles:
  • Viimeinen taistelija <The Last Fighter> (Finland)
  • Der Tag des Söldners <The Day of the Mercenary> (West Germany)
  • Rolf: ワイルド・アウトサイダー "Rolf: wairudo autosaidaa" <Rolf: Wild Outsider> (Japan)

1 comment:

  1. I remember watching this on video in 1987. It was known as The Last Mercenary.