While 'Mandrill' involves an interesting mix of genres, I'm not sure I can recommend it. I didn't hate it, but I sure didn't love it. This feels like the kind of bad foreign movie that Quentin Tarantino would endorse. It sounds appealing, but it definitely isn't as good as is could be.
Marko Zaror plays the titular lead character in 'Mandrill,' an assassin with a sweet tooth for revenge. After witnessing the murder of his parents as a child (like O-Ren Ishii in 'Kill Bill'), little Antonio grows up to become Chile's most notorious assassin (also like O-Ren Ishii), Mandrill. Every little kill he completes along the way is leading up to the big hit – killing the now aged assassin who killed his parents. When the film opens, Mandrill has already been killing for a while. He is well-trained and seasoned in all manners of combat – martial arts, guns, knives and even explosions. There isn't a single thing that he can't do. Imagine MacGyver meets James Bond meets Jackie Chan. Not bad, right?
'Madrill' opens with him receiving the job of killing the man who killed his parents, but it's not easy getting to him. We constantly flip-flop back and forth from the present to Mandrill's past. Each time we see the flashback of his parent's murder, we are given a small amount of new information. Other flashbacks include what happened to little Antonio after his parent's murder. He was taken in by his uncle, who explained that his late father was like a fictional action star and sex symbol John Colt. As we see bits of Colt's 'Grindhouse'-ish television series, we see where Mandrill gets all of his charisma and appeal – he's trying to be like John Colt.
The flashbacks and John Colt stuff are decent, but should have been trimmed down. It's fun at first, but drags and pulls you away from the revenge story at hand. The road that Mandrill must take to get to his mark is long and full of fluff. His mark has been off the radar for some time, but he uses his casino-loving daughter Dominik as a messenger. To get close to her father, Mandrill must first get close to Dominik. With the majority of his life training coming from his chauvinist uncle and the womanizing television character John Colt, Mandrill uses the sappiest lines of cheesy dialog to get her – and it works.
Of course, before his mission is complete, Mandrill starts to fall for Dominik and things get complicated when it comes time to pull the trigger. Leading up to it are a mind-numbing amount of repetitive back-to-back martial arts sequences that cause 'Mandrill' to consume itself and wear out its welcome. By the time it ends, you'll think to yourself, 'Thank heaven that's finally over!' It wouldn't be so bad if Mandrill's roundhouse kicks weren't surefire ways to knock henchmen unconscious and he wasn't always springboard jumping around the room in over-indulgent slow motion.
I understand why we keep getting these 'Grindhouse' knockoffs – 'Grindhouse' was a lot of fun – but 'Mandrill' and 'Hobo with a Shotgun' both play the same note for too long, making these respective 88- and 84-minute movies feel extra long. They each take themselves too seriously, erasing the fun and the comedy that should exist in a movie that celebrates bad movies. If it wasn't for these faults, 'Mandrill' could be a cult classic, but as-is it's rental material.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia (Magent) has placed 'Mandrill' on a Region A BD-25 in a standard blue keepcase. The stylized cover art makes it out to be your average direct-to-DVD unheard-of action movie, not the tribute to the '70s that it is. Prior to getting to the main menu, you're forced to watch a Magnolia vanity reel and a disclaimer, but you can skip right over the trailers for 'Outrage,' 'Point Blank,' 'I Melt with You' and HD Net.
'Mandrill' has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It carries with it the sharp, crisp and clean high-definition look that we've all come to love.
The first thing you'll notice about 'Mandrill' is its stylized look. Set in South America, it tends to carry that washed-out hue of movies set in Latin America, almost like a Tony Scott movie. Using 'Traffic' as an example, it always makes me laugh to see how directors choose to making lighting look different simply upon crossing a border. 'Mandrill' never lets up from this look. The hue often throws the fleshtones off and colors and lighting become highly saturated. On a few occasions, they become overly saturated, but it's obvious that this is a directorial choice. The details that are usually sharp become lost in a few of these overly-stylized scenes. The only detail that never disappears is Mandrill's massive unibrow. No video flaw can erase that thing.
Black levels are consistently strong and shadow delineation is great. Without compression problems like artifacts, aliasing and banding, the transfer is great for the most part, but features a few problems towards the end. At the 66 and 68 minute marks, waves of distractingly ugly noise flood the screen. A few shots during the climactic fight reveal an odd haze of grain that's unlike anything in the rest of the film. As distracting as these flaws may be, at lease we're not stuck with edge enhancement and DNR.
'Mandrill' features both Spanish and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, but I recommend the Spanish track with English subtitles. The English dub is not only lifeless, but absolutely flat. The Spanish dialog is the opposite – dynamic and full of life.
Also dynamic is the music mix. The scoring to 'Mandrill' is reminiscent of a 'James Bond' theme in grandeur and melody. As you would expect from a 'Bond' Blu-ray release, it is elaborately mixed throughout all speakers and conveys a mood much bigger than the movie itself. In essence, the music is better than the movie.
The effects are also a step above what one would expect from an unknown foreign release. Surround and rear channels are alive with small ambiance-establishing sounds. When the opportunities arise for it, they are also employed with imaging effects of cars speeding by, fists flying past your face and pieces of debris soaring through the air. If only all foreign releases could feature such a mix.
If you've ever seen a movie too overly stylized for its own good (like '300'), then you already know how too much of a good thing can bog down and even ruin a movie. Going for a 'Grindhouse' feel, that's exactly what Mandrill does. It takes the contracted killer action sub-genre, places it within the gritty and unrealistic world of bad '70s cinema and beats you over the head with it, never taking the time to stop, look at the camera and wink. 'Mandrill' has the potential of being something over the top and fun, like a 'Big Trouble in Little China,' but takes itself far too serious. Just like the content, the video quality's style occasionally eats up the good that it had going for it. The audio, however, is surprisingly strong. It's a shame that the special features are less than entertaining. Unless you dig films that try way too hard for cult status, then 'Mandrill' will be just okay.