With a pulpy scenario hand-tooled for filming in any anonymous foreign clime, and Christian Slater in the sort of two-fisted lead role that once provided steady employment for the likes of Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff, “Soldiers of Fortune” resembles nothing so much as the formulaic ’80s action fare once churned out by Cannon Films for fast international playoff. Nostalgic genre fans might deem this by-the-numbers B-pic sufficiently see-worthy during its limited theatrical run. But most other curiosity seekers will prefer to take their trips down memory lane in homescreen platforms.
Capt. Craig McCenzie (Slater), a fallen-from-grace Special Forces vet, gets a shot at redemption — or at least a hefty paycheck — when he’s offered the job of overseeing “the ultimate in extreme vacationing,” a program that enables bored billionaires to enjoy firsthand combat experience under the protection of battle-tested professionals.
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Without fully overcoming his initial misgivings, McCenzie agrees to train five disparate one-percenters — a mining magnate (Sean Bean), a telecommunications mogul (James Cromwell), a cocky arms dealer (Ving Rhames), a hedge-fund tycoon (Charlie Bewley) and a designer of violent videogames (Dominic Monahan) — for a covert mission to transport weapons to rebels in a mineral-rich island nation ruled by a ruthless dictator (Gennadi Vengerov).
The plan, according to a darkly beautiful rebel lieutenant (Oksana Korostyshevskaya), calls for the billionaires and their highly trained, heavily armed bodyguards to land on an unguarded shore of the Black Sea atoll, deliver the weapons and beat a hasty retreat. But of course, everything goes terribly wrong early on, and it’s left to McCenzie and his not-so-wild bunch to topple the dictatorship without getting killed first.
Here and there, helmer Maxim Korestyshevsky plants a few wink-wink hints that he’s not unaware of the pic’s absurdities. (A straight-faced, over-the-cop commercial for the “extreme vacationing” service is a genuine hoot, recalling the similarly outrageous ads in Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop.”) For the most part, though, he’s content merely to transcend the obvious budgetary limitations, sustain a vigorous pace and keep out of the way of his cast while shooting in various locales throughout Bulgaria.
The script is so thinly written that the main characters are defined almost entirely by the actors playing them. Fortunately, seasoned pros Slater, Rhames and Cromwell are able to flesh out their boilerplate parts, and Colm Meaney tosses some tasty ham into the mix with his broadly villainous turn as an ex-CIA agent (now employed by the dictator) with an old score to settle with McCenzie.
As the aforementioned rebel lieutenant, the only significant femme character in “Soldiers of Fortune,” Korostyshevskaya doesn’t take off her clothes, make love to McCenzie or reveal herself as a traitor; in a genre pic as predictable as this, that’s what passes for novelty.