Jean-Claude Van Damme continues to explore and embrace his darker side in this modest Asian action thriller, as a kidnap & rescue specialist who falls foul of organ traffickers in the Philippines. Sadly, budgetary constraints and a lack of interesting action beats make Pound Of Flesh as sloppy and indigestible as its title might suggest.
From Peter Hyams, the director of Outland, 2010 and the Van Damme actioner Timecop, this is essentially a low-rent Die Hard knock-off set in and around an ice rink, during the climactic game of the Stanley Cup. Van Damme plays a former fireman, haunted by the death of a young girl he failed to rescue, who has let his marriage crumble, his kids pull away from him and needs a new reason to live. Cue a terrorist attack fronted by Powers Boothe, who has some dumb scheme that involves far too many coincidences, lapses in security and homicidal mercinaries to do what they’re told, so they can get some money and won’t blow up the stadium.
There are some recognisable character actors in play, but too little of Van Damme’s signature action to really draw in the fans. His most engaging fight of the film may well be one against a woman in a penguin suit, while the climactic face off with Boothe on the stadium roof involves some woeful compositing of a plummeting helicopter that really suffers after 18 years of CG innovation. Obviously this is a film to be enjoyed at the basest of levels, but truth be told I struggled to stay interested – and I was actively looking for a no-brainer.
After enjoying the hell out of the fourth installment in this resurrected franchise, Day of Reckoning, I was advised to check out the previous chapter. Also directed by John Hyams, son of Outland/Timecop director Peter Hyams, this is the story of a terrorist group who kidnap the Russian president’s children and rig the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to explode. They do this with the help of a stolen next generation super soldier, NGU (Andrei “The Pit-Bull” Arlovski), leaving the CIA little choice but to retrieve and reprogramme UniSol Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Hyams ditches the goofy tone of the first film for a bleak, deadpan aesthetic and moodier tone, keeping the focus on stunts, fights and intensity, rather than nuanced characterisation. Dolph Lundgren’s rival UniSol is crobarred back into the story, but it’s difficult to ally yourselves with any particular character as they remain a soulless, dead-eyed bunch throughout. The results are respectable for a relatively low budget sequel, but the best is yet to come in this particular franchise.