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Mark Dacascos Is Perfect in ‘John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum’

As Wick’s foil, the veteran star of straight-to-video action flicks has finally found his perfect role, making him the threequel’s biggest surprise

Alamy/Ringer illustration

Here’s the move: It happens near the end of a movie called Drive, but not the Drive you’re likely thinking of right now. This Drive came out in 1997 and it starred Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison. Dacascos plays a bionic man who has a literal engine in his chest. Hardison plays a musician who agrees to drive Dacascos to a place Dacascos is trying to get to so he can sell his chest engine. It’s one of those straight-to-video movies that Dacascos has built a career around.

But so the move: During the big fight scene where Dacascos finally gets to put his fists and feet on the movie’s main karate bad guy, there’s a part where three henchmen on dirt bikes try to run over Dacascos. He gets rid of the first guy by kicking him in the head so hard that it nearly decapitates him. He gets rid of the second guy by tricking the guy into riding up some steps and then grabbing his foot and twisting his leg with so much torque that he shatters the bones from ankle to hip. (Dacascos, for good measure, kicks him in the head afterward too.) The third guy sneaks up on Dacascos and fishtails his bike into the back of his legs, sending Dacascos tumbling. Dacascos gets extremely mad, and so, as the dirt bike guy speeds toward him, he cocks his leg back and gets ready to attack. And here’s where he does the move that I have teased two times already. But I’ve teased it two times because it really is some kind of incredible. Because Dacascos DOES NOT kick the guy in the head, knocking him off the dirt bike. And Dacascos DOES NOT kick the guy in the chest, knocking him off the motorcycle. And Dacascos DOES NOT even bother to dive out of the way of the dirt bike either.


What Dacascos does is he clenches his fists, grits his teeth, plants his foot, and then fucking kicks the dirt bike as hard as he can. And more than that: He kicks the dirt bike as hard as he can with his shin. And more than that: He kicks the dirt bike as hard as he can and the guy and the dirt bike react like they’ve just crashed into a titanium pillar. Look:

Here’s the motorcycle crash from Mission: Impossible—Fallout:

The dirt bike and the guy in Drive do exactly what the motorcycle and Tom Cruise do in Fallout when Tom accidentally drives into the side of a compact sedan at 50 miles per hour. That’s how much power Dacascos generated. That’s how much power Dacascos generated WITH HIS MOTHERFUCKING SHIN.

Mark Dacascos is in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum. He plays a character named Zero, the leader of a small group of assassins tasked with killing John Wick. That’s why I’m writing about him right now, and why I’ve been thinking about him for the past several weeks. (JW3 comes out on Friday, but I watched an early screening of it back in March.) And I am very happy to tell you this, because I have loved Mark Dacascos since 1994, when I watched him as a kid in the Double Dragon movie: He is incredible in John Wick 3. Honestly—and I do not want you to think for even one single second that I’m being hyperbolic or exaggerating because that’s a thing I do often but am not doing right now—he’s perfect in the movie. He is its biggest surprise, just edging out by a quarter of an inch Halle Berry and her two attack dogs.

Dacascos, for the entirety of his career, has been asked to play serious characters in movies that are, more often than not, accidentally silly and, as it were, accidentally bad—movies with titles like Ultimate Justice and Maximum Impact and Operation Rogue. (My favorite Dacascos movie, and the movie that most aptly encapsulates his career ethos, has always been Only the Strong, where he plays a high school teacher who overcomes systemic racism and poverty with capoeira. Another good one, though, and one of the very few that you were actually able to watch in theaters, was Cradle 2 the Grave, a movie where he fights Jet Li and ends up getting his face melted off of his skull.) And he’s always had this kind of goofy and wholesome honesty in his eyes that, when you watched him in those accidentally silly, accidentally bad movies, you said something to yourself like, “Oh. OK, I get it. This is the kind of stuff this guy belongs in. He’s a straight-to-video guy.” But in John Wick 3, it’s the opposite. His whole essence is all still the same—he’s basically a sweet weirdo who happens to be an incredible assassin—but this time he gets to do it in a movie universe that not only takes itself seriously, but is also smart enough and clever enough to place each of its big characters into positions where they can be the best possible version of themselves. (It’s why Ian McShane as Winston is so great, and why Lance Reddick as the hotel manager is so great, and why Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Perkins was so great, and on and on and on.)

A little over a decade ago, Kanye West released 808s & Heartbreak, an album people seemed to either really like or think was really stupid. A writer I like a lot named Jeff Weiss wrote about it, and I can’t remember all of what he said or even where the review actually ran, but I will always remember him describing a glowing Young Jeezy guest verse with something close to “Kanye West understands how to use Young Jeezy better than Young Jeezy knows how to use Young Jeezy.” That was the first thing that I thought about when I left the theater after watching John Wick 3. The people who made the movie understand how to use Mark Dacascos better than anyone has ever understood how to use Mark Dacascos. They let him be eager and enthusiastic, yes, but they did it in a way that somehow only made his character seem that much more frightening, that much more ferocious, and that much more enjoyable.

The best non-fighting scene in John Wick 3 happens during the final stretch of the movie. Wick’s and Dacascos’s characters have already had a few rounds of fighting each other, and they end up back in the Continental (where no killing or fighting is allowed). They walk into the lobby area together and Wick sits down on a sofa. There’s plenty of seating available, but Dacascos, because he is a wonderful tactician, sits down as close to Wick as he can get. (Their thighs are touching.) Wick sees it happen, shakes his head, gets up, then moves to a different chair. And had the scene ended there, it still would’ve been a fun thing and a funny thing. But it doesn’t end there. It keeps going. And it’s here where Dacascos adds his name into the Great Secondary Characters in Action Movies conversation.

Dacascos, who is sitting up perfectly straight and on the edge of the cushion and just kind of staring forward intensely, blinks a few times, measures the moment, and then allows all of his steely assassin image to dissipate. He looks at John, slouches a bit, slides over on the sofa so that he’s closer to him, and then starts gushing about John Wick to John Wick. It’s like watching a kid talk to Santa Claus. He’s effusive in his praise. It’s brilliant. Dacascos looks (and sounds) like a total loon, but it feels so natural and so good and so smart because that whole Let Me Earnestly Say Some Words to You Despite How Weird This Situation Is Maybe Supposed to Be Since I’ve Been Trying to Kill You for 90 Minutes vibe is precisely what Mark Dacascos is built to do as an actor. The John Wick 3 team took the two things that Mark Dacascos is among the best on the planet at doing (fighting in a movie, being and looking sincere) and let him do exactly that. It’s beautiful, and the kind of setup that I hope more action movies provide for the B-level players in the genre who never quite found their footing.

I love Mark Dacascos. I hope we’re at the beginning of a Dacascos renaissance.