Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Skin Trade: the Dolph Lundgren-Tony Jaa Team-Up

If testosterone were enough to solve a problem like human trafficking, Det. Nick Cassidy could pretty much lick it single-handedly. Even with the whole world allied against him, Cassidy will still basically take that one-angry-cop approach. Fortunately, he will eventually team-up with Bangkok copper proficient in Muay Thai. At that point, all bets are off in Ekachai Uekrongtham’s Skin Trade (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Serbian gangster Viktor Dragovic stands atop a global trafficking empire, but the most important hub is in Thailand. Much to his regret, one of his more talented sons is killed by Cassidy during the course of an operation on the Jersey docks. In retaliation, Dragovic gets Biblical, killing Cassidy’s wife and daughter and leaving him for dead. The thing is, you can never leave a cat like Cassidy dead enough. Despite about fifty bullets wounds, Cassidy drags himself out of the hospital and hops on a plane to Thailand for some stone cold vengeance.

Sure, so far, so good. However, things get a little dicey when corrupt FBI Agent Eddie Jones frames Cassidy for the murder of Bangkok cop Tony Vitayakul’s partner, about five minutes after landing. While Cassidy works his way through Dragovic’s organization, Vitayakul pursues the rogue cop. He also frets over his girlfriend, Min, a victim of trafficking now serving as an undercover informant.

Just get a load of this cast: Tony Jaa, Dolph Lundgren, Ron Perlman, Michael Jai White, Peter Weller (as Costello, Cassidy’s crusty captain), and Celina Jade. You’re probably thinking: “what, no Michael Ironside?” He must have had a conflict. Needless to say, if you have Jaa and Lungren fight each other and then square-off against Perlman and White, you are on pretty solid ground.

Indeed, Jaa’s moves do not disappoint. The indestructibleness of Lungren’s Cassidy becomes almost a running gag, but let’s face, the man looks like a tank. White clearly enjoys getting his villainy on as Jones, and he hasn’t lost a step since the criminally under-appreciated Falcon Rising either, while Perlman chews the scenery like an old genre pro. Jade shows off a few moves here and there, but the Legendary Assassin star is definitely the one who gets short-changed in the action department.

Skin Trade follows in the long, noble tradition of taking a serious issue (often with tragic implications) and turning it into an exploitation movie. To his credit, co-writer-producer Lungren started developing the idea when he read about a particularly egregious trafficking case, so consider your consciousness duly raised. He and his co-writers display a style similar to his character’s, relentlessly plowing straight ahead. At least it’s serviceable and the action sequences deliver plenty of red meat. Come for the martial arts and stay for the payback when Skin Trade opens this Friday (5/8) in Los Angeles, at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas (and New Yorkers can catch it on June 12th at MoMI or get it now VOD via iTunes).