Van Damme Staggers Through ‘Pound of Flesh’

by Scott Pewenofkit on May 14, 2015

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Down]

Near the beginning of Pound of Flesh, Deacon (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is asked by Ana (Charlotte Peters), a young woman who lures him into a dark nightclub with EDM thumping over the sound system, “Wanna dance?” to which Deacon replies, “I don’t move so well.” This short dialogue exchange sums up the rhythmless narrative and Van Damme’s limited acting ability in Pound of Flesh, which opens today in limited theatrical distribution and on VOD and iTunes.

Pound of Flesh begins when Deacon arrives in China for reasons that remain unclear for the first twenty minutes of the film. Deacon walks the streets of a large city that is never identified and makes eyes at young prostitute Ana, who lures him into the aforementioned club. After they’ve both separately left the club, Deacon stumbles upon Ana being attacked in a dark alleyway, saves her during a fight sequence that lacks energy, and takes her back to his hotel for a night of sex. The next morning, Deacon seemingly stumbles into one of the most worn-out and cliched of urban legends: He awakens in a bathtub full of ice to find out that his kidney has been removed. Never mind that, in real life, anyone would be in excruciating pain and incapacitated for days after a major surgery in which one of their vital organs is removed, because Deacon proceeds to kick and shoot his way through the city to get his kidney back.

The most disappointing aspect of Pound of Flesh is that Van Damme doesn’t utilize what makes him peculiar as an aging action star. With a worn, craggy face and sleepy, half-open eyes, the film strains hard to make its audience believe that Van Damme can still kick and leg-split his way through his main character’s simple objective the way he did in more exciting films like Bloodsport and Hard Target. It’s a shame that Van Damme isn’t a better actor, because his rugged, worn looks finally give him a unique dimension that he has always lacked as a performer. He, and perhaps, the film’s director, don’t seem smart enough to play off of his inelegant appearance. Van Damme’s generally tired demeanor and worn face would probably have been better utilized by a more talented actor. The line, “I don’t move so well” speaks to the increasingly-limited acting ability of Van Damme and the competently filmed but uninspired action sequences. As the film staggers through its fight sequences, chases and shootouts, it lacks a sense of rhythm or grace.

The graceless, choreographed fight sequences, flat acting, and cliched script all go through the motions to reach its inevitable conclusion, which probably won’t surprise anyone who watches the film. Clumsily written, the viewer doesn’t learn until half an hour into the film that Deacon has come to China to donate his kidney to his sick niece. The introduction of the niece, and the revelation of a secret family tie do little to raise the stakes, or add tension. Van Damme himself and many other aspects of the film lack the conviction of enjoyably bad movies (such as Bloodsport) that have the ability to charge forward on their off-kilter energy alone.

In addition to reviewing movies for Scene-Stealers, Scott is also the creator and editor of FourthCinema: A Journal of Native American Film, which can be read at fourthcinema.wordpress.com

He uses what little spare time he has trying to convince people that Billy Madison is a coming-of-age story on par with The 400 Blows.

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