Action Heroes – Van Damme: Until Death

Bonus Review!

Until Death presents us with quite an issue. It’s a film that appears to have been smartly made – with due consideration given to action, character, supporting characters and gasp!  Hidden depths.

We can pray that this marks the end of a era. Where we have to start taking direct-to-the-shelf movies a bit more seriously. Someone appears to actually be a film maker on this one who can work with a small budget, a half decent script and a performance from the “Muscles” and make them all work.

So when a team of local New Orleans cops try to take down bad guy Stephen Rea, Van Damme’s bad cop starts getting on everyone’s bad side.  His wife is seeing another man, he’s having coerced (and apparently painful) sex in the backrooms of bars with prostitutes, and he’s ratting out fellow officers who he has the nerve to look down. Oh yes and he also has a bit of a drug habit. And then about a third of the way into the film he ends up with a bullet in his head.

Up to this point it’s hard to wonder what this film may be about. It’s clearly character driven – showing us all the bad sides to this cop. And then he ends up in a coma for a while, and is all but reborn. From here on his attitude changes. Some things he remembers, others he doesn’t and he spends much of the next third of the film readjusting to the world, and apologising to everyone for all of the wrongs he’s done. Yes, OK, the last section finds the bad guy returning and kidnapping his ex-wife whom he has to go rescue.

I have to say the action in this film is well staged, the acting overall is pretty good, and there’s very little that feels contrived about it – except for perhaps the return of Stephen Rea’s character at the end. He really could have just let things lie.

But it’s all ending in tears as he and Van Damme come face to face, gun to gun and blow each other away. So although his character had found some peace and redemption in his earlier state of mind, here he goes all the way to put his own life before that of others and dies a noble death.

This was the first Van Damme film I made the effort to see since Replicant (I’ve yet to see the films in between). If I hadn’t seen Until Death I may not have bothered to watch JCVD when it arrived (perhaps, but I wouldn’t have been as excited for it as I was). This film restored for me the fact that Van Damme has tried to pick interesting projects, and despite his limitations as an actor, is trying at least it better himself. And he certainly has here. Until Death may be direct to DVD and have an uninspired front cover, but the film is worth having and rewatching.

Steven Hurst

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