It’s always exciting to hear that a Van Damme or a Dolph or a Seagal is taking a risk, so here’s an exciting one. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a heroin addicted, womanizing, fucked up cop. (He’s not totally dirty though, he won’t take bribes.) Most of the other cops kind of hate him, especially the guy who blames him for the death of his fiancee in an undercover operation. Van Damme’s wife is pregnant from her new man. And his former partner (Stephen Rea, believe it or not) is the crime kingpin he just can’t seem to bust.
Eventually Van Damme gets shot in the head and goes into a coma. When he wakes up he’s sort of born again and tries to make amends. He gives his settlement to a schlub he got kicked off the force. He stops shooting heroin. His wife is taking care of him while he recovers and they start to repair their relationship. If you haven’t figured it out yet this is a genuine drama, not an action movie. He doesn’t do the splits once.
The movie takes place in New Orleans and has some pretty good urban scenery. It has almost nothing in common with the Van Damme/New Orleans classic HARD TARGET, and he doesn’t try to do a Cajun accent. Rea’s character is named Callahan and he’s a former cop, so at first when they were talking about him it was hard for a brain like mine not to think it was a “what if” scenario for Dirty Harry Callahan if he went too far over the edge. But Stephen Rea is no Clint Eastwood so I dropped that idea pretty quick.
Seagal recently did a movie called PISTOL WHIPPED where he was a washed up alcoholic cop. But even as a leading Seagalogist I must admit Van Damme did it first and took it further. The guy is shown shooting up – it’s disturbing, and it’s personal to Van Damme since he’s had his troubles with coke. This is way more gritty and reality-based than PISTOL WHIPPED, and Van Damme is definitely challenging himself as an actor. He looks sickly and doped up for most of the movie. After the accident he’s lost use of some of his facial muscles and slurs his words. It’s definitely a departure, so I admire that. On the other hand, he’s not a great actor. I think he does a good job, but I can’t help thinking a “real” actor could’ve done the exact same movie but better. That’s what I prefer about PISTOL WHIPPED. It’s a Seagal movie that takes advantage of Seagal’s skills, but also challenges him. This is less a Van Damme movie than Van Damme doing somebody else’s movie to try to prove himself and elevate his reputation. I know this would’ve probaly gone against his goals but personally I think I’d like it better if he did the same movie but still had karate in it. The Nodding Master.
I don’t mean to be dismissive though. It’s well made for DTV, ambitious for Van Damme, and much more memorable than SECOND IN COMMAND, the previous Van Damme movie by this director (he also did a competent but forgettable Wesley Snipes one called 7 SECONDS). If you’re interested in the evolving career of Jean-Claude Van Damme this is definitely an important chapter.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.