Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Film Review: Death Warrant (1990)

Death Warrant (Review)
United States/1990
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...one of Van Damme's better films."

After gunning down a notorious killer, Detective Louis Burke (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is sent undercover into a prison to solve a string of murders...

Death Warrant follows Burke as he infiltrates this prison. The prison, of course, is filled with violent criminals, which makes Burke's job that much more difficult. Regardless, Burke finds himself with some helpful allies after pummeling some petty thugs and exchanging some cash; he also finds some help in Amanda Beckett (Cynthia Gibb), a lawyer playing Burke's wife during the operation. The further the pair delve into the mystery, the deeper they get into a system-wide conspiracy — the more Burke has to fight, too. Without spoiling much, the film leads to an epic climax; sure, it's farfetched, but it's also pretty bad ass. The ending was cheesy, but that was to be expected.

Death Warrant is a very good action movie. The plot, despite some glaring issues, is actually interesting and engaging. The investigation and mystery aren't deep or complex, but they get the job done in offering something different. The film has some very blatant exposition and a few plot contrivances that are worth noting, though. You know, there are those scenes where Burke explains, "He killed my partner." Then, there's the whole bad-guy-explaining-his-motives-for-no-apparent-reason scene. Furthermore, for the most part, the film feels grounded. However, Burke's arch nemesis, the Sandman, comes off as way too over-the-top for the film. Sure, I enjoyed his scenes, but I felt like they belonged in a different movie. Sandman is treated like this omnipotent super villain —  just look at his name!

Despite these obvious issues, I really enjoyed Death Warrant. It's one of the better Van Damme films that doesn't involve a secret martial arts tournament — Kumite! Like I said, I enjoyed the plot despite its flaws. It's expositional, contrived, cheesy, action-packed, and entertaining — I actually enjoy three of the above. As usual, Van Damme kicks ass with his flurry of spin kicks and powerful punches. Sure, his foes never seem to even try to block, but does that make Van Damme any less bad ass? Of course not! Van Damme is nimble and vicious. If you love his signature kicks, there's plenty to see here. The final fight is a little over-the-top, but it certainly leaves an impression.

Although he may be as nimble as ever in his fighting, Jean-Claude Van Damme comes off as a little stiff in the leading role. However, Van Damme is also very charismatic and he grows into the role as the film progresses. The supporting cast is also strong, Cynthia Gibb delivers a good performance. The fight choreography is good — it would have been great to see a little more variety in the style, but Van Damme fans won't be disappointed. The film is shot well, too, and the music fits the tone — especially the obligatory 80s inspirational track during the credits. Director Deran Sarafian crafts an engaging and exciting action flick; also, he creates a tense and ominous atmosphere through the unique setting — you always get the feeling something could happen at any moment when in the prison, which is a feeling that further kept me hooked.

Overall, Death Warrant is a very good movie. If you love Van Damme's vicious kicks, you'll find a lot to love here. Although flawed, the plot offered more than enough action, mystery, and originality to keep me hooked from beginning to end — the fast pace and well-balanced plot helped, too. This is one of Van Damme's better films. I liked it much more than Cyborg and a little less than Bloodsport. Regardless, if you idolized Van Damme as a child in the 90s like me, I think you'll enjoy this one.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some partial nudity.

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