“An honest-to-goodness action movie in 2013 devoid of any sense of irony”
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Starring: Dolph Lundgren
Directed by: Jesse V Johnson
Words: Patrick Reed
American action movies and professional wrestling were the currency of my childhood, so a pairing of Dolph Lundgren and former WWF Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin already sounds like something concocted in my young, frenzied imagination – particularly when you throw in a bowling ball getting rolled in to a man’s face within the first ten minutes. So far, so exactly what I expected.
So, The Package, then. What’s it all about? Steve Austin plays Tommy, a bouncer at a nightclub-cum-bowling alley, with a side-line in gangland debt collecting. So if you’re a fan of “Stone Cold” doing what he does best – mumbling, scowling, and punching henchmen in the throat – you’re in for an absolute treat.
Wick’s task is to deliver the eponymous package to “The German” – Dolph Lundgren – “an international crime lord and hardcore killing machine” according to the press release, complete with a designer suit, sunglasses and a taste for the finer things in life. There is an attempt to anchor an emotional centre to it all, through Tommy’s relationship with his wife, and his younger brother in prison, but it’s little more than a tacked on afterthought and ultimately if it’s a character that isn’t Steve Austin or Dolph Lundgren, they’re really not worth wasting too much time thinking about. So let’s not.
The “package” itself is the key narrative element, the MacGuffin around which the entire plot centres – a mysterious, highly sought after wallet-sized object over which a succession of villains, each one more clichéd than the last, navigates a baffling array of interconnected relationships, all in the name of lining up to get punched in the throat by Steve Austin. Imagine the 1998 crime thriller Ronin, only with little of the intricacy, and considerably more of an ex-WWF wrestler headbutting a man to death.
It’s impressive in itself that Anchor Bay managed to produce an honest-to-goodness action movie in 2013 devoid of any sense of irony; none of the Tango & Cash on steroids “spot the reference” games of The Expendables here, with even the occasional corny one-liner being played completely straight, and that’s almost reassuring in its way. It’s not a nod and a wink to let you know that while you may be indulging a guilty pleasure, but that’s okay as the stars are in on it, rather it’s presented relatively subtly. It’s an invitation to embrace the genre – ultra-violent, badly acted, clichéd warts and all. Austin is a functional action hero, eschewing the wisecracking stylish comedy approach of his fellow former WWF grappler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in favour of a more subdued style that lends itself well to a less flashy, more violent breed of action movie, a genre that does a reasonable enough job of covering up his relative lack of acting ability, while playing up his physical menace. Lundgren, meanwhile, is a delight to watch, and while he might be a little sluggish in the action scenes these days, he seems to revel in one or two of his more extravagant Bond villain speeches.
The Package was never going to be a classic, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s well put together, there are some genuinely fun, if unoriginal and largely illogical, setpieces, and Dolph Lundgren has a good line in understated psychopaths that’s well represented, with his age-worn face adding a layer of grizzled humanity that was absent in the younger, Swedish superman good looks of his earlier roles. In fact, perhaps the movie’s biggest flaw is that Lundgren isn’t utilised nearly enough, barely rising above a glorified cameo, with far more screen time being devoted to lesser characters that barely rise above a cookie-cutter template.
Insofar as it’s an action movie romp that takes itself just seriously enough, and requires little in the way of deduction beyond “why is Stone Cold Steve Austin hitting that guy with a claw hammer?”, you could do a lot worse, and the intrigue as to the nature of the package itself adds depth that would have been otherwise absent – with the reveal coming as a genuine surprise, and leading to one of the film’s more entertaining fight scenes, and one of the few with any real emotional resonance.
So, it’s silly, it’s clichéd and it’s a country mile away from being original, but it’s exactly what you’d expect from a film starring Ivan Drago and a former six-time WWF Champion. And there’s nothing wrong with that.