Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pound of Flesh: JCVD is a Day Late and a Kidney Short

Leave it to JCVD to give an urban legend a Taken twist. Deacon, a hardboiled kidnapping & recovery specialist will wake up in an icy Manila bathtub sans one kidney. However, he has a very particular set of skills, skills that he has acquired over a very long career that will help him track down that kidney, because it was already spoken for. Deacon was supposed to donate it to his ailing niece and he is not about to disappoint in Ernie Barbarash’s Pound of Flesh (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select theaters.

Deacon has yet to meet his niece and he has been estranged from his brother George for years, but a man has to do what a man has to do. Unfortunately, that means Deacon is also pretty easy to set up. When he saves a damsel in distress, who happens to be just his type, it leads to a woozy night on the town and an ice bath. George, the devout Catholic is rather disappointed in his carelessness. Of course, Deacon is not about to take this lying down, even if has just gone under the knife. Reconnecting with Kung, a dodgy former comrade, Deacon pops some morphine and starts following the trail of the organ harvesting ring.

Maybe you think you have seen this all before, but keep in mind, in this case, Van Damme uses a Gideon Bible to beat the snot out of people. You can call that getting Biblical. However, it really isn’t objectionable, considering how seriously Pound handles issues stemming from George’s Catholicism.

Frankly, the combination of Van Damme and an unpretentious action-specialist like Barbarash inspires a great deal of confidence. As in Assassination Games and Falcon Rising, there are no over-the-top set piece spectacles in Pound. Instead, the film is all about Van Damme putting his foot in the bad guys’ behinds. Barbarash understands how to show off his stars’ skills, giving us full body shots and absolutely no shaky cams.

Indeed, Van Damme still does his thing in Pound. All his strengths and weaknesses remain what they always were, which is good or bad, depending on your perspective. He is deliberately playing a somewhat older cat, but he has not lost much in terms of physique and flexibility. Aki Aleong adds some extra veteran seasoning as the crafty old Kung. The Manila backdrops also helps give Pound a distinctive flair.

Sadly, Pound is dedicated to the memory of co-star Darren Shahlavi, probably best known as Twister in Ip Man 2. He also had massive skills and considerable presence. Pound showcases the former more than the latter, but as Drake the chief henchman, he is definitely a worthy opponent for Deacon. Shahlavi could have very easily broken out with genre fans, becoming something like the next Scott Adkins, so his early death and its mangled reporting in the media is especially tragic.

Despite off-screen misfortunes, this is just a fun film that happens to be better executed than cinema snobs will give it credit for. When Van Damme makes a film with Barbarash you can be assured of a certain level of quality control. If you want to see a dude with one kidney kicking an organ harvesting gang several shades of black-and-blue than Pound is your ticket. Recommended for Van Damme fans, Pound of Flesh releases on iTunes and in select markets this Friday (5/15), with a special Saturday (5/16) screening scheduled at the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles.