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This review is from: Until Death [DVD] (DVD)
Jean Claude Van Damme continues his perchant for producing quality and challenging movies on a smaller budget. Obviously not content with simply cranking out one mindless actioner after another to clutter our shelves, Van Damme once again trys something a little different within his chosen genre - and as a big fan of the belgian bruiser, its great to see him once again not only flexing his pecs, but also his acting muscles.
Directed by Simon Fellows (who shot the Wesley Snipes actioner "7 Seconds" and the disappointing JC vehicle "Second in Command"), "Until Death" is a dark and nightmarish thriller which follows detective Anthony Stowe (Van Damme) who is universally despised by both his work collegues and to a lesser extent, his wife. Addicted to heroin and spiralling into his own personal hell, Stowe has just come off a drug bust that has gone horribly wrong resulting in the death of two of his comrades and now finds himself in a coma when gunned down by arch nemesis Gabriel Callaghan (played in somewhat hammy fashion by the usually reliable Steven Rea). What follows is a tale of redemption as JC comes back from the brink of death - and given a second chance, he attempts to make everything right with his life - including his job and his recently pregnant wife who has been kidnapped by Callaghan in an attempt to draw out Stowe. There is more to the story, but that is the basic premise in a nutshell - but, what pulls it out of the usual direct to video dreck is the assured central performance from Van Damme.
Taking a cue from his last Ringo Lam collaboration, the excellent "In Hell", Van Damme once again attempts a complex and non-too likeable character who finds redemption through the combination of violence, honour and love. To see JC perform these kind of roles is wholly satisfying - he is proving on a smaller scale that he isn't just the guy who does the splits and another low rent video Seagal clone, he's a strong movie star who can offer a range of emotions and ultimately create a fully rounded character for an audience to connect with and follow through the movie.
The rest of the cast are hit and miss. Stephen Rea is miscast in a larger than life bad guy role, and he seems to be just reading his lines and hitting his cues. JC's wife Valerie (Selina Giles) isn't that stong either and someone deeper is needed to pull the role off - however, this is really Van Dammes' show all the way. It was weird watching it, because the first 45 minutes of the movie, JC is quite despicable and you finding yourself not really liking him - and its not until the last half hour do we see the Van Damme that we know from movies of old. Its a testament to his talent, that he can produce a fully rounded dislikable character at this time of his career - I just hope that their are a number of bigger budgeted producers out there watching what he is doing on the small screen, because I would rather see him in a medium budgeted actioner than the new wave of dull TV extra lite "stars" that we are getting today. Its quite a shame that this went direct to video, because it is far more involving than most movies I have to sit through in theatres. With a slightly higher budget and a stronger supporting cast, Until Death could have been a contnder. JC really has paid his dues now. Its time he came back in a bigger movie.
All in all, if you are a Van Damme fan then this movie is a given and one of his best movies in a long time. If you aren't a fan, then this still ranks as a high end DVD release, and well worth a peak.