Anchor Bay has released on Blu-ray and DVD the new Stone Cold Steve Austin actioner The Package. Directed by Jesse V. Johnson (Pit Fighter, Charlie Valentine), written by Derek Kolstad (One in the Chamber), and featuring, in a small but integral role, Dolph Lundgren (do you really need a list of movies he’s been in?), my expectations were actually pretty high for this one. As far as B-movie action goes, this is a respectable filmmaking and acting unit, and the fact that the writer and co-star from the legitimately exceptional One in the Chamber came along for a Stone Cold movie, I was really hoping The Package would transcend the B-movie realm and hover in A- territory, but unfortunately, there are a few minor problems that keep the film in that B-movie realm, though it is definitely in the top of its class.
Austin stars as Tommy Wick. Tommy has been working as an enforcer for local crime lord, Big Doug (Eric Keenleyside), in order to pay off a debt owed him by Tommy’s brother, currently serving a stint in prison and well within Big Doug’s reach. There is a lot to commend in the script early on. The opening scene with Tommy and another one of Big Doug’s goons scaring some schmuck at a bowling alley into paying his debt is hilariously conceived and performed brilliantly by Austin, and the first interaction between Tommy and Big Doug is very different from normal interactions between a reluctant underling and the big boss man who has his foot on his throat. There is a level of respect between the two men that clearly shows through, but at the same, there is a discernible ruthlessness in Big Doug and a calm readiness on Tommy’s part knowing, in the event things go south and his brother’s life is in real danger, he’d be ready to take Big Doug head on and Big Doug knows it every time he looks at him.
Reporting on the day’s collections, Tommy is informed by Big Doug of a sensitive package that needs to be brought to The German (Lundgren), one of the three main crime kingpins in the area in addition to Big Doug and a man named Anthony (Michael Daingerfield), who has an ex-military team ready and waiting to intercept the package. Tommy accepts the delivery job on Big Doug’s promise to wipe his brother’s debt clean, unaware of the power play in motion involving the three crime lords. Shortly after he departs, he finds himself fighting for his life every step of the way, taking on the military team as well as stray hit men looking to collect the bounty Anthony has put out on his head and for the recovery of the package before it reaches the German.
Over the course of the film, there is, not surprisingly, a great deal of action, but based on the skill with which the action in One in the Chamber was executed in comparison to The Package, it is abundantly clear that the stylistic sensibilities of director Johnson and editor Jason Dale were very different from those of William Kaufman and his editing duo Russell White and Jason Yanuzzi. There was an intense visceral quality to the action in One in the Chamber, an immediacy and a quickness that defined action in its great purity and excitement. In The Package, Lundgren was not able to showoff his martial arts prowess nor was he able to display the speed with which he can move for someone his size, Johnson and Dale favoring the intolerably slow slow-motion aesthetic that removes all immediacy and intensity from an action sequence.
However, if Lundgren was short-changed, Austin was not. As in Recoil, Austin brings in The Package that same bull-headed, gorilla-strong attitude to his fight scenes. He is not a fighter who moves with the lithe elegance of Jean-Claude Van Damme nor does he dispatch his foes with the efficient brutality of Steven Seagal. Austin is more in the Bruce Willis mold of just taking a beating without ever taking a backwards step, only he adds a Bane-like toughness to the equation, a willingness and even a perverse desire to eat every shot you throw just so that you are physically exhausted and mentally defeated by his obstinance before he beats the hell out of you. Probably the best scene in the film is a torture scene where Tommy has been apprehended by the military team dispatched by Anthony, and as punishment for killing the female member of the team’s fiance, he has to withstand the torture administered by her from her counter-intelligence background. Unlike Willis, the wise-cracking smart ass to the end, who would egg on his torturers so they would let their guard down, or someone like Sylvester Stallone, who in his Rambo films would take any and all pain with a machine-like detached determinacy, Austin’s character combines these two elements in a very unique way. Credit to Kolstad, who is clearly a skilled screenwriter, for giving the character this kind of depth; it is as if he wants to be tortured. Even though escape is in his mind, there is the sense that he doesn’t want it to come too easy. By virtue of the archetypical shady military history given Austin’s character and the fact that he is taking on his brother’s debts, the character appears willing to do the penance of others in some sort of quest for redemption, and it really gives the character nice depth and Austin, ever the improving performer, plays the character exactly the way he needs to be played, both in terms of his nonverbal acting with his body language and facial expressions as well as the delivery of his lines.
The film sort of loses its footing by the end, introducing a poorly-handled twist and wrapping things up in a rather contrived fashion (and seriously dropping the ball in the handling of the ultimate meeting of Austin and Lundgren), but there is much more to commend in this film than there is to criticize. Having previously appeared in The Expendables, recently making a film with Steven Seagal, and now having done a film with Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin is showing up alongside many of the action cinema’s most revered stars of years past, and it is not hard to see that he is consistently the most charismatic and captivating screen presence whenever he shows up. He has built a solid career for himself in the action movie world, and though The Package is not a perfect film, it is another very well made action film that undoubtedly points towards bigger and better things both for screenwriter Kolstad as well as for Austin.