Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, July 21, 2017

JCVD-A-THON: Pound of Flesh (2015)

My fascination with urban legends is no secret around these parts. Those scary stories and wide-ranging misconceptions are often secret windows into our culture's darkest fears and most shameful concerns. One of the most persistent myths, despite being repeatedly discredited, is the kidney thieves: A tourist in a foreign country falls victim to an international organ smuggling ring, awakening in a bathtub full of ice with a huge cut on their side. That particular story is a solid foundation for any low budget film. “The Harvest” or “Turistas” are just two previous examples. But those movies didn't have Jean-Claude Van Damme in them. “Pound of Flesh” promised to be an action movie twist on the ages old legend, making sure we had plenty of shoot-outs and roundhouse kicks to go with our missing kidneys.

Deacon Lyle, a former kidnapping expert and government agent, is visiting the Philippines. While at a club, he rescues a woman from an attacker. They spend the night together. The next morning, Deacon awakes in a bathtub full of ice. He is dazed, disorientated, and has a long cut down his back. Someone has stolen his kidney. This is especially bad news, as Deacon intended to donate that kidney to his dying niece. Lyle is forced to team up with his hyper-religious brother, whom he has a strained relationship with, to hunt down the people who stole his precious organ. The question is will he be able to find them in time before he collapses?

“Pound of Flesh” has one thing really going for it. The action scenes are very intense. The first fight scene in the film has Van Damme laying a body slam on the late action bit player Darren Shahlavi. The first really impressive sequence occurs when a series of baddies jump Van Damme in a dance club. The most unlikely of weapons, a bible, is utilized to gouge a guy's eye out. That scene also features some cool flips. Jean-Claude's trademark split – we haven't seen one of those in a while! – is deployed in an interesting manner, involving our hero stretching outside a moving vehicle. Shahlavi returns for a decent fight scene at the end, hero and villain wrestling on the floor of a mansion, snapping limbs and beating on each other. It's a good thing that the hand-to-hand battles are pretty cool because the shoot-outs are fairly uninspired.

Sadly, the bone-breaking action only comprises a portion of “Pound of Flesh's” run time. Director Ernie Barbarash, previously of “Six Bullets,” seemingly had higher aspirations for this low budget action flick. Deacon's brother, George, is highly religious. Naturally, that puts a strain on his relationship with his ultraviolent brother. The repeated appearances of bibles and even Deacon's name point towards more religious symbolism. I'm not sure what this has to do with the actual story but it's mildly interesting. That's more than you can say for the film's middle section, which involves characters hiding out in a cabin from the bad guys. Long scenes devoted to the familial melodrama or sleuthing are not especially compelling. Considering “Pound of Flesh” was sold as a hard-hitting action feature, it's surprising that so much of the film is so slow.

Ernie Barbarash's direction is competent, if otherwise unspectacular. Occasionally, he throws in some flashy images of faces appearing suddenly on screen, in somewhat obnoxious scene transition. It's clear that “Pound of Flesh” had a fairly low budget. Several times, some really shitty green screen effects are utilized. You could at least understand why green screen would be utilized during the various car chases, when the characters are sitting in moving vehicle. Why was such obvious green screen used during a simple shot of Van Damme standing in a dance club? Through it all, Jean-Claude Van Damme gives a committed performance. He brings his aged action star gravitas to the part of someone attempting to use what little time he has left to save someone else's life. You can see Van Damme pluming the depths of his soul, to add texture to a character that might appear simple on paper.

“Pound of Flesh” was released among much hype, at least within the world of gritty, indie action flicks. I guess the punchy log line of “Jean-Claude Van Damme Wants His Kidney Back!” was irresistible. The actual film doesn't live up to that fun exploitation premise, as the end result is actually rather dour. However, there are some stand-out fight scenes and Van Damme gives a fine performance. However, “Pound of Flesh” is a mostly forgettable, fairly cheap direct-to-video action flick. Hopefully, Ernie Barbarash and Jean-Claude's next collaboration is a little better. [5/10]

[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 2 outta 5]
[] An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[] Dancing
[] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick


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