Watching a 54 year old action star with a receding hairline try to keep the good old days alive on screen carries a well mixed brew of nostalgia, sadness and hidden glee. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s latest direct to On Demand/DVD effort, Pound of Flesh, isn’t a complete waste of time or miserable experience but it does make you think about the sharper days of Lionheart, Kickboxer and Double Impact. If this movie was released 20 years ago, it may have worked. Today, in a day and age where fight choreography has been taken to a whole other level, Pound of Flesh seems tired.
Van Damme plays Deacon, a man who checks into a hotel only to wake up the next day not feeling so hot. A woman who crossed his path rolls around in his head while he figures out that a part of him is missing. A kidney. He finds money, meds and an ace of spades waiting for him. That’s the first complaint. How many times are filmmakers going to use an ace of spades as a big turning point in a story or a big bad guy mark. Why not use a Jack of Hearts or a scrabble piece just to change things up. Like I said, the mechanics used here by director Ernie Barbarash and writer Joshua James are overused and stale.
How does Van Damme fare? Fine. His leg kicks aren’t as beautiful as they used to be, but he has also lived a turbulent life. He is somewhere in between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone when it comes to looks and up keep, carrying the weary look of a man who isn’t having as much fun as he used to or is having a hard time being as cool and quick as the old days. He is in solid shape, isn’t asked to stretch his limited acting range and basically plays the anti-hero with one last mission here. It’s nothing new or good. He has a good natured brother who may have a daughter in need of a….you know what and there is a bad guy who locks horns with Van Damme in the late Darren Shahlevi.
Sometimes the story behind the lens is more interesting than what is going on in front of it. Shahlevi, a veteran British actor with martial arts experience, died in January due to an overdose. The actor had a history with drugs and according to the director, was a good guy who fulfilled a childhood dream in working with Van Damme. The tragedy of his death kind of hangs over the film, giving more weight to the idea of avoiding all chatter before seeing a film.
Is Pound of Flesh worth it at all? There are some cool fight scenes, but most of them are marred by a deadly overusage of slow motion. I’m not sure if this is done to help slower bodies like the star or just make it look more real. In all actuality, it makes the choreography seem more apparent and dulls the adrenaline. It’s like the opposite of the Raid, which was red bull hyper quick. I always hope for something in between. A startling fight to unfold. Pound of Flesh is just tired. While there is a little heartfelt tug in the film’s closing resolution, it’s not enough to save the film.
If you are a Van Damme addict who needs a fresh dose every 4 months, watch this film, but please do at home. If you aren’t a JCVD fan, pass this up. If you like good action and don’t mind JCVD, watch one of his best films, and that’s either Timecop or Hard Target.
Pound of Flesh tries hard but is behind the times.