29 October 2003 | supertom-3
Van Damme hits form again!
Van Damme's latest effort on paper reads much like many other films he has done, in which he finds himself in a situation when he must participate in illegally set up fights. This film being set in prison is also particularly similar to Death Warrant. These are really where the similarities end because this is more dramatic and less flashy than those. There are no sweeping Van Damme kicks played in glorious slow motion, he doesn't seem invincible and is not able to summon great amounts of strength to down 7ft behemoths in one punch, in this film he is an ordinary guy. If he fights someone who looks like they could take him, then he will have a tough time, and get beat up.
This film allows JC to play a character with some depth and some emotion, a character who we sympathise with in the way his wife's death effects him. He kills his wife's murderer when he is let free and so goes to jail and we see the way in which his character goes on a downward spiral without his wife. While this film attempts to have a sympathetic character it has such a hackneyed script, full of clichés that it ends having ultimately wasted one of Van Damme's best performances and some classy direction from Ringo Lam. He is a grade above other b-movie directors and this film looks great, he worked with a good cinematographer and editor to make this look well beyond its 15 million or so budget.
There isn't a single surprise in the film and many of the supporting cast are bad but the better actors all produce some good moments. You feel for certain characters, it is a shame that the majority of the crew and cast aren't matches for the more talented members, however it does allow JC to stand out.
The fights are not about being flash they are rough and ready and pack a punch, and are superbly edited. It makes a change for Van Damme but far more watchable than other films like Nowhere to Run which showed no flashy martial arts. The fighting in this is more like proper wrestling.
As with many low budget movies there are problems with the special effects, such as dodgy CGI airplanes and a poor synth score. In the end though the film was an enjoyable watch while not great it featured quality in the direction and with a decent performance by Van Dammes standards, were not talking Academy awards by any means but possibly a Video Premiere award nomination. ***