Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Jean Claude – Dark.  Yes, in his latest DTV thriller, Van Damme surprised me as it looked as if he was dusting off his acting chops and was actually going to attempt to play a character against type, and this is what the man managed to do, at least until it became yet another lame action shootemup.  But at least for a moment, ‘Until Death’ had some real potential.  But in all honesty as far as the Three Kings of DTV are concerned, with the other two being Seagal and Snipes of course, Van Damme is probably the worst actor, but he does take the most chances.  Snipes has completely stopped trying to act and directing Steven Seagal has to be a directors nightmare.  Okay Steven, look happy!  Steely glint, “how’s that?”  Now look distraught!  Steely glint “how about that?”  But Van Damme does try at least as he played a shell shocked war vet in the putrid ‘Hard Corps’ or a clone of himself in the much better ‘Replicant’ and here he plays prostitute boning, heroin injecting, witness abusing, unfaithful wife possessing police detective and he does a credible job of it.

We meet a disheveled Detective Anthony Stowe (Van Damme) sitting in his car along with another cop on a sting operation in New Orleans.  Stowe has been trying to bust his ex-partner and now current crime lord Gabriel Callaghan (Steven Rea) for years and now this sting, which involves the transfer of drugs and money using a sexy undercover cop as the point, should do the trick.  Well since this is the start of the flick, you know that’s not gonna happen as all hell breaks loose, cops die and Callaghan gets away with the loot and the drugs with the stench of a setup looming over the proceedings.  Stowe is upset that folks had to die because of his presumed screw up, but not too much as there’s heroin to shoot up and prostitutes to abuse.  Then his wife Valerie (Selina Giles) informs him over dinner that she’s pregnant and he’s not the baby’s daddy.  Stowe celebrates that news by calling her a whore and beating the hell out of the guy trying to tow his illegally parked hooptie.  I’m kinda loving this guy about now.

In between all of this Stowe is still trying to bring Callaghan to justice and Callaghan is trying to kill Stowe, which is fairly pointless because Stowe is doing fine job of that all by himself.   But Callaghan really hates the guy and finally gets the drugged out cop where he wants him and puts a bullet dead square in his dome at close range.  Though this would certainly end a normal mans life, it only puts Stowe in a coma, but being unable to speak, feed himself and go to the bathroom seemed to remind his whore of a wife of why she loved him in the first place.  Eventually Stowe emerges from his coma full of remorse and sadness for the transgressions in his previous life as the bullet turned on his compassion filter and he sets about making things right.  But Callaghan, who could have left him alone and gone about his crime lording business, still wants him dead.  Stowe may be a changed man, but he still has a roundhouse kick and a loaded gun and when they push the stuttering limper too far, there will be HELL TO PAY!

I will admit to being surprised to see Stephen Rae in ‘Until Death’ as he is an actor who usually doesn’t make appearances in quick DTV action flicks, but as I have said before I’m not going feed his kids or pay his rent so more power to him.  However, he doesn’t belong down here with us and I would appreciate it in the future if he leaves these roles in the more capable hands of a Tony Todd or Jeff Fahey or Tim Thommerson.  He was completely miscast as the bad guy in this flick leaving me to fear that next time we’ll see Daniel Day Lewis or Ralph Fiennes in one my DTV action thrillers.  Horrors.  Rae aside, I liked the look and atmosphere that director Simon Fellows crafted for his film, though it seemed to lack a pulse and a rhythm, leaving one waiting for it to really pick up, but it never does.  Van Damme Dark however was great though and I loved the complete pathology of his character in this film and felt the film would have been much better served had they left him Dark for its entirety instead of redeeming him at the end.  By doing that and turning ‘Until Death’ into just another lone wolf, damsel in distress shootemup, they sacrificed what was, up until that point, distancing the film from the pack.  And though director Fellows shoots a pretty picture and certainly knows how to frame his actors, he doesn’t necessarily shoot a scintillating action sequence, which this film relied on to bring it home in its third act.

‘Until Death’ is certainly decent enough to warrant a watch and this is good news with the three kings coming through in their latest efforts with Snipes doing good work in ‘The Contractor’ and Seagal not stinking up the joint in ‘Flight of Fury’.  It’s just that, as is often the case in films such as these, it looks as if it could have been better.

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