I was excited to watch INVINCIBLE as soon as it came out, because it’s the first major Marko Zaror role I’ve been able to see since SAVAGE DOG in 2017. Since then he’s been in something called THE GREEN GHOST that I don’t think has come out, he had a tiny appearance in ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, he doubled young Will Smith in GEMINI MAN, and it looks like he was in one episode of a Marvel TV show that I haven’t watched because it’s a crossover of several other Marvel shows I haven’t watched. I’ve missed him, so it was exciting to finally have another movie with his name on the cover.
Unfortunately, this is not what I consider to be a good movie, and not bad in an interesting enough way to recommend it to most people. It does however once again demonstrate Zaror’s extreme talent and professionalism – not just anyone could be in a production this shoddy and still be good in it, so for that reason I don’t regret watching it.
Hopefully it’s clear by context that the INVINCIBLE I’m talking about here is not the current animated TV series, the 2006 Mark Wahlberg football drama, the 2001 Billy Zane martial arts TV movie, the 2001 Werner Herzog filming starring Tim Roth and a muscleman, or the 2001 Michael Jackson album – it’s the movie dated 2020 but finally released on DVD last week. It stars Johnny Strong (THE GLIMMER MAN, GET CARTER, SINNERS AND SAINTS) as Cam Devore, bodyguard to Leor Teska (Paul Kennedy, ’71) – you know, the world famous, admired and beloved CEO of The Phoenix Group, known for his cryptic press conferences where he announces he’s going to change the world with his cybernetic limb replacement technology.
Cam is also kind of famous because (for reasons I do not understand) people are always trying to assassinate the beloved CEO, and Cam took a bullet for him. The movie opens with a pretty decent fight and shoot out that made me assume he was supposed to be some John Wick assassin guy, but I guess he was bodyguarding.
Unfortunately, after that opening violence it’s molasses-slow for a while, without the filmatism to make you feel good about it. Michael Pare (PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH) is in it for a while as Cam’s friend who took over as bodyguard while he was recovering from a bullet wound. If there’s an important narrative reason for this character to be here I missed or forgot it, but it does say something for the importance of familiar faces in B-minus movies like this. I’d rather have likable Pare in here for no reason than not have him.
I probly suspected this movie would be a struggle as soon as the credits played over computer animated DNA strands like some shitty circa 2001 sci-fi movie, but the real breaking point was an early scene where Cam is on a private jet with his boss and it dissolves to a stage in Bangkok where a band is performing. We see some of their song and then it dissolves back to Cam on the jet like nothing happened. Later we meet Cam’s ex-wife Michelle (2014 Miss Asia Pacific World May Myat Noe) who he’s trying to get back together with – the old “you couldn’t be with me because of my violent job but I’m trying to cut down now” plot. I did not put it together right away that she’s the singer we saw earlier. I may have been distracted, fair or not, by the age difference. She looks more like his daughter than his old lady and if the marriage was supposed to be a year or two ago the actress would’ve still been a teenager, while Strong is a little older than me and trying to play up how grizzled he is.
Another goofy piece of storytelling is when it seems to randomly cut to a shot of monkeys with fireballs superimposed over them. Later it will be an important plot point that the lab experimented on monkeys, and it’s certainly a valid storytelling technique to show us images that won’t make sense to us until later, but it doesn’t work as well if the images seem laughable at the time.
Zaror plays Brock Cortez, a soldier we keep seeing involved in some generic military skirmish until he dies and is revived in a Phoenix Group lab using their secret experimental nano-technology. Vladimir Kulich (RED SCORPION 2, FIRESTORM, THE 13TH WARRIOR, THE DEBT COLLECTOR) plays a sinister Colonel in charge of the project and the late Sally Kirkland (BEST OF THE BEST) plays one of the doctors (unfortunately not coming across great).
When Cortez wakes up in the lab he’s confused and fights his way out. Thinking they’ve made a monster (or something) they try to put him down, but their nano-tech makes him heal himself (low budget BLOODSHOT). Though no one seeing Zaror for the first time in this movie would guess the level of care, technique and storytelling Zaror normally puts into his fight scenes, we do get to see him run down some halls beating up a whole bunch of dudes, which is a plus.
What I think is so special about Zaror is that he’s not only a great screen martial artist and choreographer but also an interesting actor with range and unique presence. They’re usually not very verbal characters, but he’s played awkward outcasts, stoic zealots, suave super studs and arrogant psychopaths, all with great success. (I’ll have some recommendations at the end of the review.) The best thing about INVINCIBLE is not his fighting, but his performance of Cortez as sort of a Frankenstein’s monster on the run. He seems to need to lots of sustenance to facilitate his healing powers (I appreciate that they didn’t explain this in dialogue) so he’s constantly stealing food from street vendors and scarfing it down.
My favorite part of the movie is Zaror sitting on a curb munching a piece of meat with a stray cat. He gets used to, and kind of bored with, his miserable existence as a guy who can’t be killed, so when cops try to apprehend him he just sadly says, “Leave me alone.” But they don’t, so he shoots them, then takes their guns for later.
Maybe a more mega performance for the evil CEO could’ve added more fun. The guy is fine, but generic. I guess I can imagine more Terry Silver because he has an amoral, philosophical talk on the phone while he’s in the bath tub, and then we see that there’s a naked woman and a bottle of wine waiting for him. I like that there’s a rubber ducky in the tub with them. That’s a good touch.
Cam takes his sweet time figuring out that he’s working for bad people. Then after an accident where he actually utters the words, “I can’t feel my legs!” he wakes up a nano-cyborg. His friend, local cop Mike (Jason Archilla, “Embassy Guard,” one episode of Strike Back) gave the okay to do the surgery, feeling iffy about it but not wanting to let him die. It seems like Cam will start to understand Cortez’s plight, but Cortez kidnaps Michelle in desperation, so Cam shows him no mercy. (It’s pretty funny to see Cortez bum rush the stage during Michelle’s concert and just leave with her over his shoulder.)
I guess this makes it kind of like BLADE RUNNER that the villain is fighting back after being victimized and the protagonist doesn’t show him proper empathy so it ends up being disappointing that he wins. Intentional ambiguity, for sure, but I’m not sure I’m supposed to be against Cam at the end.
“LIKE BLADE RUNNER!!!!!!!!” —Vern, outlawvern.com
Paul Rudd’s GEN-X COPS 2 stunt double Ron Smoorenburg is credited as one of the fight choreographers. The cinematographer is BALLISTIC: X VS. SEVER director Wych Kaosayananda. I’m not familiar with director Daniel Zirilli, but he started out doing Montell Jordan and Scarface videos, went into “urban” DTV movies (BLACK SPRING BREAK 2: THE SEQUEL, VOODOO TAILZ, LATIN KINGS), and now works with many of the DTV action guys including Luke Goss (CROSSING POINT, HOLLOW POINT), Seagal (THE ASIAN CONNECTION) and Dolph (ACCELERATION).
It seems like INVINCIBLE was probly Strong’s baby. He has a story credit along with Zirilli and Robert David De Lay (STEEL GODDESSES) and he also has a credit for “Original score composed and performed by.” That’s some pretty generic (but fine) electronic stuff, and some electric guitars later on. I would raise my letterboxd rating by one star if it ended with him playing in Michelle’s band, like the end of HOWARD THE DUCK.
I like Strong as a presence in this type of movie. I kept noticing that he kind of looks and sounds like Lance Henriksen, which is a good thing. Then I realized it’s Lance mixed with some Skeet Ulrich. But nothing wrong with that. It still mystifies me that he’s the one surviving member of the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS crew that has never returned in the sequels, even though he seems much cooler now. Have they really not asked him? They gotta at least give him a cameo before it’s over. Don’t send the producers this movie though, would be my suggestion. I can get behind some of the melodramatic story points here, but he’s unable to overcome the clunky dialogue and storytelling that conveys them.
The good news is that Zaror has already filmed JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4. We don’t know how big of a role it is but I think we can safely assume they’ll give him at least one great fight. I hope it will bring him more opportunities, but even if it doesn’t, he’s already created and starred in a series called El Puño del Cóndor with his longtime collaborator Ernesto Diaz Espinoza. That should be good.
In case anyone reading is unfamiliar with Zaror, here is my prescription: watch any of his four Chilean films with Espinoza and see if you fall in love. My personal favorite is REDEEMER (2014), where he plays an ex-cartel hitman turned mysterious self-loathing drifter who helps a fisherman targeted by gangsters for finding some of their money in a net. A close runner up is MANDRILL (2009), playing an elite hitman I described in my review as “laughably awesome, like Shaft, Blade, Snake Plissken, James Bond.” Their weirdest one is their debut KILTRO (2006), where his character is kind of a gloomy, heartbroken punk/goth-ish guy in baggy pants who finds out he’s the heir to a secret magical martial arts style. I had some issues with the tonal shifts in MIRAGEMAN (2010), his take on the “what if a person in the real world started fighting crime like a super hero?” concept, but most people seem to like it better than me, and the fights are definitely great.
I also really like his two roles as villains in Scott Adkins movies – UNDISPUTED III: REDEMPTION (2010) and SAVAGE DOG (2017). I’d rather see him keep being the lead, but these are roles where he gets to have really good showcase fights and also have fun being a total bastard. Hopefully we’ll get more of both soon.