'Pound of Flesh': Film Review

Yes, Van Damme can still do a perfect split

The "Muscles from Brussels" goes after the bad guys who stole his kidney in Ernie Barbarash's action movie

A quick internet search reveals that a human kidney weighs approximately ¼ pound. But that would make a far less catchy title than that of Jean-Claude Van Damme's new action movie in which he plays a former black-ops agent (natch) on a desperate search for the organ that's been removed from his body without permission. Familiar in style to the Muscles from Brussels' past efforts only with lesser production values, Pound of Flesh should reasonably satisfy his core fans, even if they're more likely to watch it on VOD than in theaters.

It's not that Deacon (Van Damme)--who suffered his organ's theft after a night spent with a beautiful woman in the Philippines only to wake up in a hotel room bathtub filled with ice, with a giant scar on his body and a note saying "Pleasure doing business with you" propped on the shelf—needs the kidney for himself. He does have another one, after all. Rather, it's for his dying niece, to whom he was slated to donate it before he was so rudely interrupted.

So he goes after the bad guys who took it, accompanied by his religious-minded, pacifist brother George (John Ralston); his former underworld contact Kung (Aki Aleong); and eventually Ana (Charlotte Peters), the woman who drugged him who's now had a change of heart.

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It's all, of course, merely an excuse for the requisite series of action scenes demonstrating that Van Damme, aged 54, can still kick ass, as well as baring his. Never mind that his character has just endured major surgery; a little morphine, and he's good to go.

Director Ernie Barbarash, who previously worked with the star on Assassination Games and Six Bullets, handles the violent mayhem with reasonable skill, giving the audience exactly what it wants. That includes, of course, the money shot of Van Damme doing a perfectly executed trademark split as he gets dragged by a car with his foot wrapped in a chokehold around the guy in the passenger seat.

Less felicitous is Joshua James' overly talky screenplay, which drags the action down with extended dialogue scenes in which we learn, among other things, why Deacon, rather than his brother, is the one whose kidney is a perfect match for the little girl. There's also much debate between the two about whether killing is justified even in a situation such as this.

"Killing is easy," Deacon says. "Living with it, that's hard." That Van Damme places the emphasis on the word "hard" rather than "that's" is, well, one of the reasons he's never exactly been lauded for his acting skills. Although, to be fair, not even Laurence Olivier could have made a line like "Where's my kidney?"--which Deacon bellows to a bad guy before beating him up using a Bible as a weapon--anything other than laughable.

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That said, he's still a compelling screen presence, with the passage of time having only added to his stolid gravitas.

The film is dedicated to the late Darren Shahlavi, who plays the chief villain and whose knockout brawls with Van Damme are among the film's highlights.

Production: Odyssey Media
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, John Ralston, Darren Shahlavi, Charlotte Peters, Aki Aleong
Director: Ernie Barbarash
Screenwriter: Joshua James
Producers: Ernie Barbarash, Devi Singh
Executive producers: Kirk Shaw, Henry Luk, Lv Jianman, Devi Singh, Jeffrey Giles, Michael Lurie, Mike Leeder, Pierre Andre Rochat, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Director of photography: Cliff W. Hokanson
Production designer: Rachel Lee Payne-Darrow
Editor: Asim Nuraney
Costume designer: Vicky Wang
Composer: Paul Michael Thomas
Casting: Lindsay Chag

Rated R, 104 min.