Pound of Flesh, the latest film from Jean-Claude Van Damme, is the action star's third collaboration with director Ernie Barbarash since 2011, and probably the weakest so far.
Since reviving his career in 2008 with the meta action drama JCVD, Van Damme has been doing the best and most interesting work of his career. His movies aren't always as entertaining or thrilling as his '90s Golden Age stuff, but they're deeper and heavier and, most importantly, he's consistently great in them. The two Universal Soldier movies he made with Jon Hyams are among the best action movies of the 2000s, DTV or otherwise, and his bad guy turns in both The Expendables 2 and Enemies Closer elevate the quality of both movies tenfold. He's the best thing about them.
Street Fighter?). He has the saddest eyes of any action hero and, unlike his #HeavyAction contemporaries, Van Damme is not trying to hide the miles his weathered face has on it. So when he plays a character in Pound of Flesh who, we're told, was once an incredible badass but who did some very terrible things, there's a biographical aspect to the role of Deacon that grabs my interest much more than when Steven Seagal plays the 20th variation on the exact same part in the recent Absolution.
Beyond Van Damme's performance, Pound of Flesh is a bit of a letdown. It's competently made (save for a green screen car scene that's positively embarrassing and some obvious stunt doubling for Van Damme) but disappointingly low on action. There's a whole lot of religious subtext to the film; though the title is taken from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, the rest of the screenplay is rife with references to Christianity, from the name of Van Damme's character to the fact that for a stretch of the movie he literally carries around a bible and whacks people in the face with it. Deacon must give part of his body to atone for his sins, which is interesting in theory but becomes dulled by the bluntness with which the allusions are handled. Conversational subtlety is not the movie's strong suit, which is a problem because way too much of the movie consists of characters standing around talking.
There are also very few good action scenes. Aside from one street fight in which Van Damme gets dragged alongside a car doing the splits, I can't remember a single standout sequence. That's true of most of Barbarash's action movies, though; he does shootouts much better than hand-to-hand combat, but seems more interested in people talking than anything else. His last film, Falcon Rising, was a crushing disappointment. It has that amazing title and stars Michael Jai White as a badass on the warpath, but mostly has him running around questioning people. Deacon does a lot of that, too. But he also gets to shoot some people and hit them with a bible.
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