This movie drove me insane. When I think about it now, weeks since seeing it, I still don’t feel quite right. There is alternately so much and so little going on any given moment that trying to wrap your head around the things you’ve seen is damn near impossible. Command Performance is an empty, horrid void, a disaster, a hopeless, lifeless shell of a thing, and so much of it left me so stunned and confused that I may have stopped breathing for a while.
I’m sure a good chunk of why all of that is can be attributed to the mighty Dolph Lundgren. [I should expect that I’ll be talking about quite a few of his greatest works on here, and I feel that starting now, in the present, and working backwards – back to his glory days – is definitely the way to go.] As you, observant reader, may have already noticed, Sir Dolph not only stars in this direct-to-video picture, but he was also the director, as well as co-writer, along with the brilliant Steve Latshaw, director of the smash hit Vampire Trailer Park (1991) and writer of U.S. SEALS 3 – Frogmen: Operation Stormbringer (2000).
So much about Command Performance is so wrong that pondering how it came to be would surely only drive one deeper into the throes of madness. I neither know nor care where Dolph’s ideas for the movie originated. I watched the majority of it completely slackjawed. Somewhere between the headache-inducing sequences of the first twenty minutes to the mind-melting inanity of the conclusion, I lost faith in humanity. But perhaps that was to be expected as I sat down to watch the most recent of Dolph Lundgren’s direct-to-video feature-length action movies. I just didn’t know it would be as confusing and bizarre as it turned out to be.
So here’s how this whole mess goes down. The film opens in 1991, in some fancy Russian chamber. The dissolving of the Soviet Union has just been made official. Someone murders someone else and then commits suicide. Jump to present day! Dolph Lundgren is riding a motorcycle. A kick-ass rock band is rehearsing in an empty arena. Dolph Lundgren is shirtless and playing drums, and it looks weird. Wait. What about that murder-suicide? What the fuck just happened? Don’t worry about it. Really, just put it out of your mind. Instead, observe this aged action legend lay a real pounding on the skins.
Turns out, as we learn from a Russian news crew that is reporting on the event in English for Russian television – just your average alternative for an introduction or any semblance of plot advancement – Dolph’s character’s heavy rock ‘n’ roll band, C.M.F. (CHEAP MOTHER FUCKER), is opening for American pop star Venus in a “command performance” for the Russian president and his two daughters. Beyond the reporter’s voiceover, no information is exchanged for about twenty minutes. Rather, we’re smashed over the head by a drawn-out series of unimportant events.
Venus hits on Dolph’s character, who introduces himself simply as “Joe,” just your average Californian rock drummer playing in a Russian band that sounds like Staind, or Nickelback, or some comparably dumb rock group. We learn that the president’s kids are excited about seeing Venus. Joe tries to smoke a joint directly next to the reporter in the lobby of the arena, but ends up getting interviewed. The members of all the groups meet the president. A rock band and another pop singer that play before Joe’s band surely exist only to allow for extra shots of some shady terrorist business going on beneath the arena. C.M.F. performs, and it doesn’t really matter, because we already saw it. Close-up shot on a guy wearing a C.M.F. shirt. Venus takes the stage. The bad guys gradually make their way inside and set up while she performs the same song with very few dance moves.
Finally, about 22% of the way through the movie, the bad guys storm the stage and mow down the crowd before taking the president, his daughters, the American ambassador to Russia, Venus, and the news crew hostage. Good thing our man Joe was in the bathroom, still trying to smoke that joint, while this all happened, leaving him with the task of saving the day. But how, you ask? How will he achieve this! Oh, he’s a tough ex-biker with some vague knowledge of military tactics? And he’ll be assisted by a keen rookie Russian Secret Service-type agent? Good, that was easy.
The rest of the movie rolls along pretty much like this: the Russians all speak English and the whole ordeal is revealed to be some kind of complicated revenge/extortion plot; Joe crawls through the pit of slaughtered fans, has some bullshit traumatic acid flashback, and slams some people over the head with a guitar; Joe and the agent find the kid in the C.M.F. shirt, save his life, and leave him, injured, with a gun to protect himself while they go kick some ass, but never go back for him; they find a small armory in the “security office”; the terrorists force the 18-years-sober American ambassador to drink vodka before killing him; Venus sneaks away and finds Joe and BLAH BLAH BLAH everything turns out okay and Joe gets a watch from the president with the phrase “Rock and Load!” inscribed on the back…
Oh, and somewhere in there, Joe tells Venus, “Dying is easy…rock ‘n’ roll is hard.”
Honesetly, it’s all kind of a blur, both in my mind and on the screen: Command Performance, like so many other modern action movies, is heavily afflicted by horribly choppy editing of already nauseating handheld camerawork, a technique that became standard during the 2000s. I don’t want to put all the blame on The Bourne Identity…but that movie fucked up the way action movies are made. Filming on handhelds and throwing in a million quick edits works in The Bourne Identity because the filmmakers were working with a very compelling story, backed by very skilled actors. Command Performance has none of those things, and its blind stabs at imitating the style are more insufferable than anything that actually happens in this movie. I feel like that may be the case with a lot of movies that take this frantic approach, especially more recent ones that capitalize on fear of terrorism.
Of course, I’m not really a stickler for “compelling,” but one of my qualifications is “thoroughly entertaining.” Command Performance does have some excellent sections, but overall it’s just too dull and too monotonous for way too long. Action happens in gruesome bursts, and then it’s right back to the chore of developing the powerfully dumb plot, the tedium of scenes of dialogue between characters that serve no discernable purpose. It just gets to be too much. Listen, Dolph, you’re my man and all, but…this movie made me want to jump out a window high above the ground in hopes that I might find something below that made more sense.