Merle ‘The Butcher’ Hench (Eric Roberts) seems to have a bit of a problem. The long time mob henchman seems to be that rare strong arm that has been saddled with a heart of gold. Hookers with hearts of gold I’m a familiar with but mob hitmen with hearts of gold? While that doesn’t sound like two great tastes that taste great together, I think there is new territory being treaded here in director Jesse V. Johnson’s explosive mess of a shootemup movie ‘The Butcher’.
When we meet Merle he is dealing with some real-world type problems. The fact that he has gotten soft in his old age has really caused his boss Murdoch (Robert Davi) to get kind of down on him and he even urges Merle to consider retirement. As a side note we might mention that I think Mr. Davi is supposed to be Irish in this movie and while nobody loves Robert Davi as an actor more than me… I’m not too sure about this one. Another issue that Merle is dealing with is that he has gambling debts up the wazoo to bookie Larry Cobb (Keith David) and while Larry has nothing but mad love for Merle… he needs his money. Like yesterday.
This is about the point where the complicated life of Merle Hench gets exponentially more complicated. Merle, his eye squarely set on shutting it down, gets an order from the scurrilous Eddie Hellstrom (Nicholas Trimble) to pick up some loot at some strip club dive. Merle knows something is fishy about this and takes suitable precautions but ever the good soldier he does as he is ordered. It’s complicated, but sure enough it’s a setup. Thing is those who setup Merle probably should’ve asked somebody because the situation ends with a bunch of folks not named Merle being dead and Merle walking away with a duffel bag stuffed with close to a million dollars in mob money.
A million dollar windfall is good for cat looking to shut it down. A million dollars of mob money… not so much. Merle however has chosen to deal with that situation as it
comes. He fills in Jackie (Irina Bjorkland), a pretty waitress he he’s been eying for a while of his situation and asks her if she’d like to join him on his little adventure, this adventure being avoiding Murdock who is laying this aborted heist at his feet and avoiding the mob who will be looking for not only the missing loot that Merle has, but also a couple million more that the real thieves managed to get away with.
Merle figures he and Jackie should get out of town with a quickness but he also figures he should kill a few people first and while he’s killing he might as well grab those other millions that he is wrongly accused of stealing. Merle claimed that ‘The Butcher’ was a nickname given to him when he was boxing. By the end of this movie I’m thinking that there are probably other reasons that they call my man ‘The Butcher’.
Right off the bat allow me to inform you that ‘The Butcher’ is one crazy mess of an action filled movie, one that exists entirely within in its own little criminal reality that I’m almost certain can’t possibly exist in the real world of criminality. At least it can’t exist and have criminals be halfway successful. For instance in this movie my man Merle is on the run and I think he’s trying to lay low. Merle drives a 1969 Gloss Black Dodge Charger with 24 inch chrome wheels that roars even when it’s parked and he drives it everywhere. Not exactly the car for someone who is looking to lay low. While actor E-Rob isn’t the biggest guy in the world it is still rather amazing how this man can stand stationary in one spot and avoid automatic gunfire from all directions. You would almost think he was Neo. Speaking of guns if a cat has already shot up a couple of your homies are you going to walk up to his car, the Black Dodge Charger on twenty fours, and casually chat with him and then be shocked when he shoots you in the throat? You shouldn’t be. Dumbest. Mobsters. Ever.
All of that being said why, pray tell, did I still enjoy ‘The Butcher’? Possibly because of all of the reasons that I just mentioned. Yes the movie is completely ludicrous but Jesse V. Johnson has written a script that is consistent in its ridiculousness which allows us, the audience, to eventually just roll with the ridiculousness. Kind of like watching Lord of the Rings or something. Sure we know Faeries don’t exist but we accept it nonetheless because everybody else in the movie buys into it. The powers that be behind this movie also had the wisdom to cast Eric Roberts as the lead in this movie. Recently in the movie Cyclops we saw E-Rob as Emperor Tiberius. That was not a good decision. Casting E-Rob as a well dressed somewhat narcissistic hitman who gels his hair before going to murder half of Los Angeles? Good move. ‘The Butcher’ is also a movie that is almost wall to wall action and violence. Maybe too much even. And on the rare occasion someone isn’t getting their fingers shot off or their head blown clean off you are privy to a minimum dialog being recited by the likes of cinematic legends Keith David, Geoffrey Lewis and Michael Ironside in addition to Eric Roberts and not mention Bokeem Woodbine. Bokeem Woodbine baby.
So sure ‘The Butcher’ doesn’t base its narrative on any kind of reasonable logic that I’m familiar with but in this universe that these characters occupy it makes total sense. A world where a guy with a gold Glock can kill a gaggle of idiots with Howitzers. A world where mobsters could ask a simple question such as ‘where is he’ but instead pull out your molars. A world where a man with missing fingers and a neck gushing blood in way that would make Jed Clampett say ‘Damn’ is still hard enough to pick up the worlds largest gun and flat blast suckaz. A world where a dude can kill almost every single mobster in town and still suffer almost no repercussions. Almost. This is a world I enjoyed spending time in. Outstanding.