I still watch all the new films of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. They make me feel like when I was a kid excited to see Nowhere to Run or Out for Justice in theaters. Now that VOD has become a legitimate market, filmmakers like John Hyams, Isaac Florentine and Ernie Barbarash are doing interesting things with these action heroes who still matter, so their latest vehicles actually deliver some thrills.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in Pound of Flesh

Jean-Claude Van Damme in Pound of Flesh

Deacon (Van Damme) wakes up in a hotel in the Philippines with a scar on his back. It’s the classic black market kidney seduction, so Deacon goes after the bad guys to get his kidney back. Pound of Flesh has a good twist on the kidney theft story. Deacon was already going to donate his kidney, so he’s trying to recover it for the patient, not himself.

Luckily losing a kidney doesn’t mean Deacon can’t fight. They explain that he’s taking morphine for the pain, but nothing explains why his stitches don’t rip open. That’s okay. I don’t want the realistic kidney transplant movie. I want Van Damme kicking ass to get his kidney back.

Barbarash incorporates Van Damme’s trademark split in a really clever scenario. Some of the fight scenes are filmed in shadow, presumably covering for doubles and mainly when they execute MMA moves that were never part of Van Damme’s repertoire. We still get to see Van Damme fight and the action is well put together. There are some green screen shots but that makes sense. If you only have a nightclub for one night, you shoot some plates and do simple reaction shots later.

John Ralston and Jean-Claude Van Damme in Pound of Flesh.

John Ralston and Jean-Claude Van Damme in Pound of Flesh.

Deacon also meets up with his brother (John Ralston) in the Philippines and I really like the relationship between them. The reason they haven’t seen each other much is that Deacon has a black ops past and his brother is a religious pacifist. He needs Deacon for the kidney but the film actually explores their philosophical differences. It’s not just lip service, and that makes the drama between the fight scenes above average too. The only mistake here is that Deacon’s brother should be a twin who is also played by Van Damme. They really dropped the ball there, but otherwise it’s a good relationship and Ralston is good.

Some of the early scenes use lame post-production effects to portray Deacon’s disorientation. They’ll zoom a few frames ahead, or show flashbacks in double vision that were clearly added in post. It makes the film look straight to video. A theatrical feature wouldn’t use cheap post effects, but then a theatrical feature would use shakycam so you couldn’t see the fights, so who’s to say? I’d rather have these clear fights and bear with a few expository post effects.

It’s great to see Van Damme still kicking ass in a clever vehicle, almost as clever as the Die Hard and Terminator knockoffs he got to do in the ‘90s. I rate Pound of Flesh as Heavy Van Dammage and recommend you see it in theaters or VOD this Friday, May 15.

Rating: VOD

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