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Every time there’s a new Jean Claude Van Damme movie that is released I get excited and anxious to watch it. Having grown up on the man’s films, I basically I feel like a kid again when I spin kick one of his latests. Which brings me to POUND OF FLESH (get the Blu-Ray here), a flick that showed so much promise and got my hopes up big time! I mean it was directed by Ernie Barbarash who did good things with Assassination Games (2011) and even better things with Six Bullets (2012), the trailer looked like a blast and lets face it, it’s hard to go wrong with a premise like this one (Taken with a Belgium kidney) -or so I thought. Lets dive in!
It should be no surprise that the POUND OF FLESH's biggest asset was actually Jean Claude Van Damme himself… but I’m not talking about Van Damme the ass kicker here (whaaa?), I speak of Van Damme the actor. The man commanded the screen once again, and he had a couple of potent dramatic moments to take on which he brought home with gusto. His performance was tops (that one monologue he had was riveting) and it’s quite a shame that it wasn’t showcased in a better movie. Action wise; JC felt like old school Van Damme only twice here: during his first fight scene (the best one in the film BTW) with the late Darren Shahlavi (who was pretty badass on all fronts) and of course via the “splits while struggling with a dude in a moving car” bit which was the highlight of the trailer. And good move in having veteran character actor Aki Aleong in the house (who was genius in Braddock: Missing in Action III and acted with Van Damme before in The Quest) the guy always classes up the joint! Finally, although a little low rent at times (I could have gone without them tacky CG explosions) the film’s final big “stalk and kill” action scene wound up being fun to watch, specially since the middle act of the thing was so damn stale.
Unfortunately, my love for POUND OF FLESH ended there because as a whole it was a wasted opportunity. What’s the point of having a novel initial premise if you’re gonna bog it down with TOO MUCH useless padding i.e. the family drama (I easily could have done without the brother and the token ornament girl character). They threw every soap opera antic at me: terminal disease, sterility, infidelity, brothers at odds and none of them stuck! I'm here to see some wam-bam-Van Damme - not Days of our Lives! By result, the middle section of the film was laborious to sit through. Lots of it was ridiculous and endless blabbing in a car set against a green screen or more yapping somewhere else with heavy-handed music cheesing up the joint.
The cheap look of the film turned me off too. The film was shot in China, but you’d think it was another "Eastern Europe Special". It looked drab while the shot compositions were often bland. All the spastic editing tricks in the book couldn’t liven this party up. Add to that often shoddily shot/edited action moments, Van Damme being doubled WAY too much, boring MMA ground fights (trying to please the new audiences - big mistake - let Van Damme be Van Damme) and CG gore that looked like it was at the beginning stage and you get a film that could’ve been but alas felt rushed and half cocked.
POUND OF FLESH should have been all about Van Damme out to find his kidney and brutal revenge and that’s it, that’s all. Pure, simple, visceral – for some reason they decided to over complicate matters with Soap Opera antics hence diluting what could’ve been a very entertaining film. Pound of Flesh? More like Pound of..."fill in the blank".