JCVD Plays a Mountie in DEATH WARRANT

“Want results? You have to go to the Schwarzeneggers, the Stallones, and to a lesser extent, the Van Dammes.”

-Bart Simpson

Jean-Claude Van Damme never quite had the looks or charisma to match most action stars, but he did possess a steely determination and ballettic grace that the likes of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal could never quite match. It was more than enough to launch him as a martial arts star from the sinking ship of Cannon films and sustain him through a long career of 90’s B-grade action thrillers and later direct-to-DVD coasters in the 2000s. This week we cover his 6th headliner: Death Warrant.

“Listen Burke, this is LA, not Canada. We have procedures here!”

Full disclosure: I’m reviewing this film almost solely due to JCVD portraying a Canadian. In this case, Québec-based RCMP undercover operative Louis Burke, sent into the bowels of an LA prison to solve a string of mysterious prisoner deaths. It takes little time for our man to begin drop-kicking his way through the layers of gangland secrecy between him and the grisly truth. He gains some reluctant allies along the way including jaded jailyard veteran Hawkins (Robert Guillaume) and shady kingpin Priest (Abdul Salaam El Razzac), but accumulates far more enemies including vindictive head guard DeGraf (Art LaFleur) and Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick) the psychopath who killed his former partner.

With some outside help from his DA liaison and inevitable love interest Amanda (Cynthia Gibb), Burke finds the hitlist which includes his own name at the bottom. It’s now a race against time to find the murderer and uncover a conspiracy that may go all the way to the top of the food chain. Aw, who am I kidding? Of course it does!

I find that dusty old-action films from the 20th century tend to offer more with age than they did to their contemporary audiences. This potboiler from director Deran Sarafian (and then-emerging writer David S. Goyer) delivers intrepid heroes, scummy villains, gritty 35mm cinematography, practical effects, hardcore stunts, plus a reckless disregard for political correctness (the N-word is used liberally by the villains). JCVD continually proves his worth as a martial arts star (if not an A-list one) by delivering the high-kicking goods in every dust-up the script delivers unto him, no matter how contrived. I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit it was looney fun at times.

That being said, the flaws here are glaring. Stereotypes are dialed up to an eye-rolling degree, characterizations are as paper-thin as the pages they were printed on, and the plotting is messier than the destruction left behind in the final act. Even the final shot seems like a first take as the actors seem woefully mis-directed and confused as we fade to the final credits.

I’d be remiss if I said I take zero joy in re-visiting the emerging heyday of JCVD and the like. But I’ve sampled enough fine cuisine in the genre to know that fast food is only satisfying for seconds at a time before you wind up wondering if the whole meal was a waste of your money. Luckily this is available to stream for free so the only thing you could possibly waste here is your precious time. But given the general state of modern entertainment, you could very easily do far worse.

5/10 (likely 3/10 if made today)


Death Warrant and other fine JCVD drop-kicking demo reels can be streamed for free on Tubi

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