Fans of independent action cinema keen on following figures like stunt professionals Mitch Gould and Dan Southworth were rightly onto something since both appeared together in Isaac Florentine’s U.S. Seals 2: The Ultimate Force. Both have flourished in the years since then in their crafts behind the lens and thus attributing their work now seen in Gould’s solo directorial debut, Battle DRrone, finally hitting Netflix and serving up a worthy piece of entertainment for select streaming audiences and action fans alike.
Bleach-blonde Louis Mandylor leads the sci-fi thriller as seasoned solider Rekker, a former military captain-turned-gun for hire whose dishonorable departure from the formalities of military service have all but re-calibrated his worldview and moral compass with more-than-enough shades of grey. His means of income enlists his employment with his own team of equally-skilled badass mercenaries to get off-the-radar jobs done for the CIA, no matter how dirty.
Actress Dominique Swain joins in as government agent Hayes, whose sense of right and wrong in contrast with Rekker’s questionable last immediately set the tone for the two in the film’s earlier minutes prefacing the narrative in which we later meet actor Michael Paré in the role of government arms dealer and pseudo-diplomat Kess. With a coup underway in Europe, Kess assigns Rekker to acquire a load of weapons ordinance for rebels from the abandoned island of Chernobyl, only for airs of betrayal, distrust and duplicity to arise as Rekker, his team and the observers Kess assigned find themselves in a whirlwind gorilla war against manned synthetic drones, making the nature of what was instead supposed to be a retrieval mission all too clear.
Excellent independent sci-fi is hard to come by. Some are pretty exceptional although films of this kind vary in their own way. Battle Drone is clearly meant for action movie fans and, though subject to its fair share of flaws in its delivery, puts up a good fight from start to finish. Its billing as an “Expendables-style” thriller is only as good as its Expendable-dissimilar cast can help make it; Chemistry and charm certainly plays a part in this as we meet the characters who comprise Rekker’s squad and save for a just few albeit dissonant areas of dialogue and timing, there’s plenty of the former the film exhibits in the first half which finally gives the viewers something to work with.
Gould pens the script along with scribes Michael Phillip and co-star Jo Marr who plays Agent Smith in the film as complacent CIA agent Smith. Actress Natassha Malthe (D.O.A.: Dead Or Alive) stands out as solo female member Valkyrie who, despite her somewhat cluelessness on certain subject matter, serves as the team’s sniper and sharpest shooter among the lot. Jason Earles aids in the bloodletting as team member Dax, something of a lesser menacing Garland Greene sans the Laurie London jingle with Richard Reed joining in as the shotgun-toting Blackwood, character actor favorite Oleg Taktarov as mini-gun-wielding free agent Romanov, and Power Morphicon favorite, and the aforementioned Southworth as the terse, otherwise silent but deadly Shiro.
Romania serves as the backdrop for the film’s production which took place in 2013 under working title, Hunted. Southworth, who actually went viral later that year in a short behind the scenes clip that gave some idea for fans to enthuse over, pulls double-duty here as both co-star and fight choreographer whose time lapse-style action sequences, lensed by cinematographer Stephen Chandler Whitehead, bare, blunt characteristics in visual style as each technique is crafted via speed ramping, mobility of the lens between performers and close-ups that interact with the action all around.
Visual effects that coincide with the film’s action packed setting are an acceptable feat for Gould’s small scale sci-fi offering, showcasing drones that are near-impervious to most firepower and take quite the effort to neutralize. Corey Macfadyen’s score bares the film’s recurring theme at the top and bottom of the film, juxtaposed accordingly with the film’s opening and closing action scenes.
Much to our chagrin, not a lot of press was made available in the years since Battle Drone was filmed and completed with Highland Film Group shopping it in the markets. It’s something that just happens for some films and understably, it can be a crap shoot, makes Netflix’s acquisition of it all the better as of March 1; At least this way, and hopefully with more reviews and reactions such as this one, it’ll help the film gain more ground as our own James Couche vociferously expressed last year in discussing Scott Adkins headliner, Boyka: Undisputed IV.
For Battle Drone, Gould serves a consistent, solid leading man in Mandylor along with Parè and actress Swain whose short hair and mature traits provide fun trivia in discerning her from previously playing daughter to John Travolta and his villainous counterpart in John Woo’s Face/Off. It also helps to have a director who, despite the median drama and dialogue from time to time, is a lot less eager to treat his cast like ragtag B-movie throwaway than other directors, in addition to having, by far, one of the best action professionals on either side of the camera in Southworth.
By the end, you’re left with a much more feel-good finale than expected. Battle Drone isn’t perfect sci-fi, but it’s damn good fun if you’re into independent niche titles and not too keen on going to the movies this weekend. Indeed, Gould now emerges as part of a movement that puts stuntmen in the director’s chair in an effort to employ people who can tell a feasible, quality story and translate it all into comprehensive, entertaining action and stunt work, and for this, he is plentily suited for another shot at the helm in due time.