Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

JCVD-A-THON: Six Bullets (2012)

By 2012, things were looking up for Jean-Claude Van Damme. “JCVD” had brought him the kind of critical praise he had rarely received up to that point. A pair of hard-hitting “Universal Soldier” sequels had reestablished his cult following. A flashy role as the bad guy in “The Expendables 2” exposed him to a mainstream audience that might have forgot he existed. (There was also that reality show in 2011 but we don't like to talk about that.) But I guess high-profile projects like these weren't coming along frequently enough to keep food on the table. The world of direct-to-video action still called to Van Damme. “Six Bullets” would appear on video store shelves in 2012. “It's a living,” I imagine the Muscles from Brussels saying in response to this.

Samson Gaul, a former government agent, specializes in rescuing kids from kidnappings and child sex rings. He was, anyway, until a mission went horribly wrong and resulted in the death of two teenage girls. Now Gaul resides in Moldova and works as a humble butcher. Mixed martial artist fighter Andrew Fayden travels to Moldova with his wife and daughter, for a big comeback fight. When his daughter disappears mysteriously, he fears the worst. He's right: His thirteen year old daughter has been abducted by white slavers, with the intention of selling her into sex work. Fayden talks Gaul into coming out of retirement to help him, forcing the agent to overcome his past and face his fears.

“Six Bullets” is Jean-Claude Van Damme's stab at the Dadsploitation genre. You know what I mean. Following “Taken's” surprise success, we've gotten a whole bunch of films starring middle-age guys, with gritty crime film atmospheres, about rescuing or avenging daughters, wives, or surrogate daughters/wives. By focusing on Van Damme rescuing teenage girls, “Six Bullets” already fits this subgenre. The film takes it even further once his character's son shows up, played by Van Damme's actual son. Kristopher Van Varenberg even gets involved in the action scenes, though he doesn't perform any spin kicks. Beyond the obvious story attempts to emulate “Taken,” “Six Bullets” also maintains that film's Eastern European setting and grimy tone. This is not a feel good action flick, featuring dead kids, grisly corpses, and prostituted teenagers.

If “Six Bullets” had just focused on Van Damme's character, it would've been a pretty standard direct-to-video action flick. It still would've been grim and violent and derivative. But at least it would've been shorter. Instead, “Six Bullets” is nearly two hours long. The last act drags on, giving far too much detail to the heroes attacking the villains' lair. In order to support that laborious length, the script gives the girl's parents a lot of screen time. There's long scenes devoted to Joe Flanagan's Andrew Flayton, beating people up and investigating leads. His wife, played by Anna-Louise Plowman, even gets on things. She's distracting guards and loading guns. The characters are strictly stock parts, so these moments are not compelling in the least. You can feel “Six Bullets” straining to be taken more seriously.

Director Ernie Barbarash has previously been involved with direct-to-video horror movie sequels,  like “Cube Zero” and “Stir of Echoes 2.” He carries that horror influence to “Six Bullets.” In addition to the grim tone, Van Damme also has reoccurring hallucinations of the little girls he got killed. This stuff is pretty overdone but Barbarash does have an alright handle on the action scenes. An opening knife fight is pretty cool, concluding with a giant explosion. A shirtless fight Van Damme has in the butcher shop is solid. As is the sequence where he dons night vision goggles and beats some thugs with sticks. By the end, “Six Bullets” collapses into stale shoot-outs. But at least the director does give us the appropriate amount of bang for our buck. This is the second of three collaboration between Barbarash and Jean-Claude, so I guess they must like working together.

Considering its trendy premise and longer than average run time, I suspect “Six Bullets” was originally intended for a theatrical release. If dropped into theaters in January or February, it probably would've earned some decent cash. Even after his millennium comeback, I guess studios weren't willing to gamble that much cash on Van Damme. “Six Bullets” is pretty lame. Too bleak to be a fun action flick, and too generic to be anything else, it does not stand out among the star's other direct-to-video fare. [5/10]

[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 3 outta 5]
[X] 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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