Operation Black-Ops will release on Digital and DVD July 11 from Uncork’d Entertainment.
Before I go any further, it’s worth reflecting a little on Black Lotus and the acting debut of Dutch world kickboxing champion Rico Verhoeven. I didn’t read the critic reviews so as to avoid compromising my intake of the Todor Chapkanov-directed action film. I was inevitably made aware, after I published my review, that some critics took umbrage to the movie and simply didn’t enjoy it.
One friend told me that Verhoeven may never act again. I’ll hold off on this until later, but I’ll add that after seeing the film, I did catch one action movie blogger’s dissenting review of Verhoeven’s debut. It was surprising, to say the least, particularly since at one point several years earlier this was the same individual that gave a glowing review to Iceman 2 with Donnie Yen (this same blogger also promoted an indie crime drama sequel recently and embarrassingly billed it as a supernatural sci-fi flick – which it is not – but…that’s neither here nor there).
I suppose going into this review of Jamaal Burden’s generic direct-to-disc/digital Operation Black-Ops, therin lies a more worthwhile discussion about casting current and/or once-active sports fighting athletes. My father was religiously into boxing and football, and piggybacking off these traits, I grew up cultured around R-rated beefcake action films, WWF wrestling (as it was branded at the time), and other shows like “American Gladiators” and “WMAC Masters” over the years. From a corporate perspective, its understandable that studios and producers saw putting action movie scripts in the hands of competitive athletes as profittable given the audience that was there.
Of course, this is the same audience that films like Operation Black Ops is attributed to. The proximity however sits the film well within range of MMA fans with a poster featuring the shared billing of Tito Ortiz and Cris “Cyborg” Justino. Adding to the fanservice is a tagline beneath both names which reads “He Will Finish The Mission,” in reference to the role Ortiz plays. For this, it’s a concept borrowed from plenty other films that execute said concept way better; The marketing here audaciously cites The Expendables as reason enough that fans ought to love this movie, which is a disservice to Stallone and pretty much anyone who’s directed or gotten a thrill out of any a movie about a ragtag team of heroic assholes joining forces to stack up the bodies of enough schmucks to do some worthwhile good.
I found myself positively bored with Operation Black Ops. Plot is supposedly focused on a former mercenary named Noah (Ortiz), once wronged by the government and now sought after to infiltrate and overthrow a Neo-Nazi stronghold nestled deep in the heart of Texas. It also turns out that this same facility is housing nuclear codes that could ignite the next World War, but honestly, none of this really matters. The movie starts off with a lousy gunfight with some of the worst exploding-body visual effects you’ll have ever watched, and I honestly don’t remember if it has any connection to the rest of the movie.
Nearly ten minutes in we’re finally introduced to Noah in a preamble scene of him in an underground arena. That fight scene spends a few minutes with the camera panning around at onlookers cheering on the supposed victor of that fight in which the only thing we see happen is Noah get up from a hit we don’t see him take, and knock the other guy out, thus ending the fight. Noah is then met by a government figure shadowing him from the crowd and propositioning him about the mission. Of course, Noah is reluctant at first, but he eventually accepts the mission. You know, because movie.
Noah is later joined by Shroeder (Mike Ferguson) and congregating with his former team members all living seperate lives and they each have some kind of baggage they haven’t been able to let go of, including Parker (Mike Markoff) and Eric (Paul Bikibili), and it’s not until a little over forty minutes in before we finally meet up with Chicago (Justino). The film also involves a woman and the gang of villains interrogating her, led by some guy who says something along the lines of knowing she’s with the “CEA”, though it sounds like he tried to say CIA or DEA. I’m not really sure, only it doesn’t matter because they’re suddenly interrupted by an armed man shooting his way in. He’s not there to rescue her though, but it’s just to retrieve a package of somekind, and we never see or hear from him again, and this scene is never addressed again. But, there’s at least fifty or so minutes of movie left, so you’re inclined to keep watching. You know, because movie.
We’re also introduced to a few other characters we don’t see or hear from as the story moves forward, and I honestly can’t say things get better from here. Much of the script is delivered at a pace as slow and as myopic as the acting from the entire cast. The story feels like a twenty-to-thirty minute concept stretched into seventy-plus minutes, subtracting eight between the slow crawl of opening and closing credits.
Viewers are also given a protagonist along with some kind of revenge ploy that is never really seen all the way through, and a nameless, faceless villain reduced to a few henchmen that die unceremoniously, which undercuts any and all hype about watching good guys kill Nazis. There’s no real coherence between any of the main characters by the third act of the movie either, upon which we’re given a cliffhanger ending full of more holes than the film’s gunshots to bodies and shoddy VFX would have you believe.
Worse off, any and all fight and gunplay action seen in the film falters with terrible sequencing and execution, with characters getting mysteriously shot in the third act with no coherence brought forth to explain how or why, and the visual effects and editing are an embarrassment. There’s one scene involving one poor schmo stepping on a mine and he explodes. The graphics are terrible and we don’t even really know if he stepped on a mine or not, just the actors on hand, and it all happens faster than I can comprehend. It could be that my brain checked out by then as I didn’t see a reason to care, but that’s just me, and the explosion itself was pretty subpar and unceremonious.
To that end, neither could I find a reason to care about this movie, or any of the characters in it. Frankly, the only real gratification I got was seeing Justino beat the piss out of some off-camera henchman who had it coming. If Operation Black Ops allowed me to feel this much for an action movie being compared to a Hollywood blockbuster whose first installment beat out Edgar Wright’s graphic novel adaptation that year only to stand the test of time through cult fandom, then maybe Burden’s third feature wouldn’t feel so inert and flailing.
The only real fun you’ll likely see with Ortiz in a movie is getting folded by Jet Li in Cradle 2 The Grave. I don’t know what else to tell you there, but as far as comparisons go, buy a ticket for the next Expendables movie or check out films like Special Forces and U.S. Seals 2: The Ultimate Force, or Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen to get your fill. Even better, ACTUAL Nazi-hunting action spectacles like Sisu or Netflix’s Blood And Gold are more than worth your time.
Like gentrified soul food, Burden’s Operation Black Ops is a bland, embarrassing slog of an action film, contrived in every way possible – almost to the point of excruciating physical illness. The movie is a letdown against any hype for it that might have come your way, and is simply not fit for consumption. It’s also likely that this won’t be the worst movie you’ll see this year either, but this is not a save. Frankly, I don’t think Verhoeven has anything to worry about. I said what I said.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.