Former action superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme returns to the direct to video arena in Pound of Flesh, a tale of organ thieves and family secrets. While his straight to video output may not match Steven Segal or Dolph Lundgren’s in quantity it’s certainly done well in quality as The Muscles from Brussels has adapted to his age and been willing to play co starring roles and even play the villain if need be. And somewhere along the way he seems to have taken acting lessons, something that serves him well in this film.
The plot borrows from horror films in it’s set up. Van Damme is a highly respected killing machine, infallible when it come to carrying out assignments, but his personal life has been a disaster. Now with the chance to do something right, he is donating a kidney to his sick niece. That is until he wakes up in a tub of ice water bearing scars from home brew surgery. As the Blu Ray case says “They stole his kidney…He wants it back.”
And indeed that is the basic plot, a race to find the kidney before it gets transplanted into somebody else. It is filled out with twists and turns, many in the relationship between Van Damme’s killer for hire and his scholarly brother. Some of the revelations in the film’s later stages make some people’s motivations a lot clearer. Thankfully Van Damme has grown enough as an actor to pull them off properly. Not that that’s a total surprise, he showed he had acting chops in JCVD but he’s expanded them since, and that’s a good thing because Pound of Flesh has a bit more talk than his films usually do.
Obviously though it’s the action, not the acting that people are buying this for and there is plenty of that, from fights to gun play to blowing stuff up. Van Damme’s post op condition gives a nice reason for him to favor a hand gun over using his hands, (and feet) but he still gets up close and personal with his foes including a unique use of his ability to do a full split, this one involving an opponent inside a moving car, (and no, he isn’t in it with him).
An interesting twist has our hero relying on shots of morphine to keep his pain in check, (did I mention he doesn’t see a doctor about the missing organ, just mans up goes out for revenge?). In fact it began to remind me of a more serious version of Jason Statham’s Crank films, between bad guys messing with his body/stealing parts from it and the need to recharge himself with jolts of electricity in the second one. While I can see Van Damme ever going that over the top, it would have been nice if some of his morphine shots had been replaced with adrenaline.
This is director Ernie Barbarash’s third teaming with Van Damme, the other two being 6 Bullets and Assassination Games, with Games being one of the stars best films of recent years. They work well together and it shows. He also gets good performances from the rest of the cast, most of them seasoned, if unfamiliar faces. Darren Shahlavi gives a fierce performance as JC’s main adversary in one of his last roles before his untimely death earlier this year.
The film does have one noticeable gaffe, it’s set in Manilla but most of the street signs etc in the background are in Chinese. That’s sloppy on the part of whoever was in charge of post production.
So in the end Pound of Flesh is a fairly middle of the pack for Van Damme with a bit more depth and some higher minded ideas than usual. Maybe the fact it’s title is a reference to Shakespeare should have been a hint. It has it’s share of action and a few good plot twists including one near the end that caught me totally off guard. Worth seeingfor fans of the star or the genre.
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