The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Pound of Flesh

In last year's John Wick, Keanu Reeves went on a mission of revenge after someone killed his dog. Jean-Claude Van Damme has him beat with Pound of Flesh, in which he goes on a revenge mission after someone steals his kidney. As if that premise isn't wild enough, there's also a touch of religious exploration here, and not just because early scenes find JCVD beating people savagely with a Bible.

Van Damme plays Deacon Lyle, a guy who professionally rescues kidnapped individuals. While in the Philippines, he saves a young woman on the street from being mugged. She buys him some drinks, then takes him to bed. When he wakes up in the morning, the bed sheets are covered in blood and he's got a massive surgical scar on his back. Realizing his kidney has been stolen, Deacon vows to get revenge against those responsible, with the help of his Christian brother George (John Ralston). You see, it wasn't just any old kidney that was taken; it was the kidney he intended to donate to his critically ill niece.

The premise in Pound of Flesh allows for some wonderfully goofy lines of dialogue, such as when Deacon angrily yells at someone, I want my kidney back! It also provides plenty of opportunities for Van Damme to kick some proverbial ass. In the best action scene, he goes after two guys in a parked car. He pins the hand of the guy in the passenger seat to the side-view mirror with his foot, while the guy in the driver's seat starts to pull away. The auto then ends up dragging Deacon down the street with his legs in a perfect split. Later, Deacon and a villain become entangled on the floor, repeatedly stabbing each other with the knives they're both holding. Moments like these are exactly what one comes for when one sees a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, and they do not disappoint.

Unfortunately, while Pound of Flesh has some wonderfully crazy stuff in the first twenty minutes and the last twenty minutes, the hour in between doesn't do enough to maximize the craziness. In fact, it makes the mistake of asking to be taken seriously. The plot offers up some fairly heavy-handed stuff about why Deacon and George have been estranged for so long. There's additionally an awkwardly inserted religious theme. George is a devout Christian who frequently espouses pacifism and contrition. He then finds himself in a situation where violence may be the only way to get the kidney back and save his daughter. Pound of Flesh doesn't develop the idea enough to make it meaningful, so it merely comes off as shallow, rather than contemplative.

Beyond that, the film also has a generic female character with no real personality, some of the worst green-screen effects of recent times, and a number of distracting illogical elements. For example, why does Deacon have a thick Belgian accent, while George does not?

Pound of Flesh is a weird movie. The most outlandish moments are undeniably over-the-top fun, but the more self-serious ones land with a thud. In the end, the two types exist within the film in about equal measure. There's half a really amazing action flick here. However, you can't help but wish that it had gone full-tilt in its lunacy, rather than just partway.

( out of four)

Note: Pound of Flesh opens simultaneously in theaters and on VOD May 15.

Pound of Flesh is rated R for violence, language and some sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.

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