Sometimes the DTV market is the fertile crescent of indie action… and sometimes it’s KILL ’EM ALL

DTV action movies are kind of my “beat” here at Cinapse. As a father with a full time day job (both roles I adore), I have to pass on reviewing tons of content that younger me would likely have jumped at. Hell, I even pass on MOST of the DTV action stuff that comes down the pike. I don’t mess with the Steven Seagal vehicles or the Danny Trejo joints. I don’t know who most WWE superstars are, so I let those come and go. But my man Jean-Claude Van Damme is still commanding my attention. No one would accuse him of being consistent, but many would agree with me that latter career Van Damme is fascinating. Still occasionally putting in 110%, coming into his own as a comedic presence, and also embracing many darker and more somber roles, Van Damme may have passed his physical prime, but he’s pushing the boundaries, and I respect that. So I’m often willing to take the plunge and commit to reviewing his newer releases.

Kill ’Em All is a film that displays none of the exciting physicality or bravery of performance that some of JCVD’s recent work has shown. Limp and relentlessly dour, the playful title is an epic rope-a-dope. I hate to say it, but there’s actually nothing about the film that stood out as dynamic, interesting, well-shot, or least of all fun. And that’s a big issue with the dour version of JCVD. Sometimes a nice tale of dark brutality matched with decent filmmaking or paired with Scott Adkins (Assassination Games) makes for a solid story. But the risk is a lack of fun, and Kill ’Em All embodies this risk. Reaching, I would say that I liked seeing a fight between The Muscles and his adult son Kris Van Damme. I didn’t know it was his son until the end credits, but in retrospect that is pretty awesome. It happened to be among the better fights of the film as well.

I do also love when stuntmen make the jump to directing, and am pleased to see that director Peter Malota is a long time Hollywood stuntman and collaborator with Van Damme. The direction isn’t award winning here, but it certainly isn’t the biggest culprit. That would be the script.

Kill ’Em All is saddled by a framing device that places it squarely in the “Usual Suspects knock-off” camp. Suzanne (Autumn Reeser) is the only survivor of a hospital shoot out, and she’s being interrogated by Peter Stormare and Maria Conchita Alonso. This has the double bummer effect of making ALL of the film’s action feel like boring exposition and past tense events lacking urgency. Suzanne is a nothing character, as are Stormare and Alonso. These three sit in a plain conference room and exchange lines in such a way as to almost blatantly acknowledge that all their lines were filmed in a day or two to afford Storemare and Alonso. This is a DTV staple, to get some names on the DVD cover for a day or two of work. I don’t have a problem with the strategy, but if I recall correctly these two never share so much as a single shot with Van Damme, and there’s nothing more boring than people sitting in a conference room chatting. Well, I guess Usual Suspects pulled it off. And you better believe Kill ’Em All is going to try real hard to bite off the game-changing twist ending that Suspects did. Lifeless, inevitable, and non-sensical, Kill ’Em All’s attempt at a clever final twist was extremely ill-advised.

Van Damme is the main character of the movie in a sense, though he mostly only exists in flashback due to the framing device. There’s some stuff about former Yugoslavian territories, the death of his father as a child, and a revenge plot. We’re supposed to be guessing whether Van Damme is a good guy or a bad guy as events unfold, and to the writers’ credit there are some attempts at twists and turns to break up the generic fight scenes loaded with Van Damme stand ins and stunt doubles. But none of it really clicks and Kill ’Em All ends up being the most dreaded kind of DTV action film: a boring one.

The Package

Devoid of any special features, this is a quick release to capitalize on Van Damme’s name, and that’s exactly what got me to check it out. The film doesn’t look particularly good, taking place largely in a visually bland abandoned hospital or conference room, so the Blu-ray treatment isn’t adding much value. Kill ’Em All is only for JCVD complete-ists or PERHAPS those curious whether Maria Conchita Alonso is still beautiful (she is).

And I’m Out.

Kill ’Em All is now available on home video from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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