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A confused, but entertaining potboiler
on 27 January 2013
It seems that Double Impact was the movie that made Van-Damme a star, while the martial arts-based B-movies that preceded it merely built his fame ever-so-gradually. Death Warrant is the odd-one-out in that regard as it is neither a Kickboxing tournament flick nor laughably awful. It seems to be set in some semblance of reality though the story never seems to be quite sure of what it wants to be or where to go.
Lewis Burke is a kickboxing Canadian Mountie (there's a sequence of words you never thought you'd read) who, in the opening moments of the film, guns down and kills demented serial killer The Sandman at point blank range with a .357 Magnum. Some time later he is sent undercover in an extremely corrupt prison to find out who has been serial-killing the inmates. Helping him out is Amanda Beckett (Cynthia Gibb, looking exactly like Emma Watson...only prettier) a lawyer who poses as his wife and feeds him information from the outside. Meanwhile, it turns out that The Sandman ain't quite dead (despite being shot many times with a .357 Magnum) and is seeking revenge. There goes Burke's cover.
Death Warrant (meaningless title, btw) was the first screenplay by acclaimed writer David S. Goyer (The Invisible, The Dark Knight trilogy) and you can identify his surreal trademark even at this early stage. However, the film builds and develops like a supernatural horror, yet is firmly grounded in the 'prison thriller' genre. The eventual revelation is very weak, and belongs in a totally different movie. If it had the nerve go all the way with the supernatural element it would have been much better. I would rather a movie aim for something higher, and fail, that aim for something low-wattage and dull (which Death Warrant unfortunately does) and 'succeed'. Patrick Kilpatrick (an edgy, nervous actor who you might recognize as Finn in Last Man Standing, or as the mercenary who unwisely challenges Penn's authority in Under Siege 2) is brilliant as the Sandman but he's given little to do. His presence in the movie feels out of place.
Deran Sarafian's slick direction makes a lot of use of light, shadow, and creepy cinematography, but with such a schizo script there's only so much he can do with it. A disappointment, but decent entertainment nonetheless.
MGM presents the movie in great-looking 1.85:1 1080p with decent DTS HD-MA 2.0 sound. The only extra is a trailer. While the movie is squarely average, the Blu-ray is certainly worth the money for fans.