In 1990, Death Warrant
was one of several back-to-back action movies that suddenly made Jean Claude Van Damme's name a rival to Stallone's and Schwarzenegger's. Its distinction from the likes of Cyborg
or Double Impact
is in its firm grounding in reality. In fact, Los Angeles County Jail couldn't seem more harshly real. That's where Detective Burke finds himself going undercover to investigate a string of mysterious (and politically embarrassing) deaths. Of course, the prison environment is ideally suited to Van Damme's strengths, where he elicits sympathy as the innocent abroad during one fight sequence after another. Lots of colourful secondary characters are along for the ride, such as the enigmatic Priest, tough-as-nails peanut-shucking Sergeant DeGraf and Burke's arch nemesis, the Candyman (Patrick Kilpatrick). There's an admirable attempt at portraying the action with some panache. Light and shadow is used to good effect and every kickbox move is punctuated by a double cut. Although the script dispenses with the essential Van Damme elements in the opening seconds (he lost a partner / he's from Canada / he can kickbox), this is definitely an above-average Van Damme flick.
On the DVD: The bare-bones transfer offers an occasionally grainy picture in 1.85:1 ratio and a three-channel surround soundtrack. The only extra off the static menu is the original theatrical trailer. --Paul Tonks
Renegade cop Louis Burke (Jean-Claude Van Damme) poses as an inmate in order to investigate a series of murders in maximum-security Harrison Penitentiary. All his martial arts skills are required when he uncovers the truth about the killings and attempts a daring escape.