Review: Skin Trade
PLOT: After being forced to kill a gangsters son during a firefight, a cops (Dolph Lundgren) wife and daughter are killed in retaliation. He manages to track the gangster (Ron Perlman) to Thailand, where he stumbles upon a massive human trafficking conspiracy. Teaming-up with a local cop (Tony Jaa) he sets out to dismantle the slave trading ring and take violent revenge.
REVIEW: Ive always had a soft spot for Dolph Lundgren. While he never quite hit Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone levels of stardom, the guy had a cool screen presence. While he took a lot of knocks for his acting in movies like MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, after a few years they guy improved, giving a solid, relaxed performance in the early nineties gem SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO, and stealing every scene in movies like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (Im all ears!) and JOHNNY MNEMONIC. Heck, his grocery store meltdown in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER is hall-of-fame material for action stars.
That said, Im pretty much ignorant of everything hes done since ARMY OF ONE save for THE EXPENDABLES and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (legitimately a gonzo masterpiece). In SKIN TRADE, Dolph does triple duty. Not only is he the star, but he also produced and co-wrote the script. Clearly this is a passion project for the man. In the end, it doesnt quite push the envelope as Im sure Lundgren intended, but thats not for a lack of him trying.
If anything, SKIN TRADE suffers from Lundgren having to share the spotlight with Tony Jaa. A few years ago, I was sure Jaa was going to be the next Jet Li or Donnie Yen, but a string of mediocre movies have dashed those hopes. Here, Jaa seems to mostly be phoning it in, just like in THE PROTECTOR 2. While he gets lots of fight scenes, he seems to be doubled for too many of the stunts and powerhouse moves, which is a huge disappointment considering how crazy he seemed in ONG BAK. It could be that Jaa wasnt doubled and that this is merely an issue with the choreography, but if Jaas not bringing some death-defying martial arts moves than what exactly is he doing in this? Considering how much he struggles with the English dialogue and how little presence he has, it seems like a waste of a part. If Dolph had paired up with someone like CHOCOLATEs JeeJa Yanin, SKN TRADE might have been absolutely mental. Sadly, that was not to be. It doesnt help that director Ekachai Uekrongtham seems more game to make a serious minded drama than an all-out action flick, which is a miscalculation considering the audience.
Still, it cant be denied that Lundgren brings his A-game here. While its a familiar part, he looks cool sporting a nifty scar and weathered appearance, and the early scenes depicting him as a conscientious cop and devoted family man are well done. Once his wife is killed and he becomes a force of nature, we get the unstoppable Lundgren we all know and love. While Jaas action beats, such as a showdown with Michael Jai White that should have been awesome, arent great, Lundgrens got a few good ones. His brief scrap with Jaa is creative how it contrasts his huge frame and physique against the lithe Jaa, and Lundgren still makes an ultra-credible action hero.
In the end, Uekrongthram and Lundgren seem to have intended for this to be more of an issue-based drama than a hardcore action flick, and while thats laudable (human trafficking is indeed an insidious crime), the movies not quite polished enough to pull that off. Still, some of the more character-driven moments are appreciated, such as an attempt to make the villain (an accented Ron Perlman) three-dimensional, but at a certain point it feels forced. Still, for Lundgren alone (as well as a cool cameo by Peter Weller) SKIN TRADE is still worth checking out for hardcore action junkies as long as they keep their expectation in check.