Film Review: ‘Skin Trade’

Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa star in this tedious, formulaic actioner.

Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Ron Perlman, Celina Jade, Peter Weller, Matthew James Ryder, Sahajak Boonthanakit. (English, Thai, Russian dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1641841/

Human trafficking is the window dressing for standard revenge-driven action in “Skin Trade,” a B-grade hybrid of “Taken,” “Commando” and “Rush Hour” that pairs star-producer-co-writer Dolph Lundgren with Thai martial-arts superstar Tony Jaa. Exhibiting little cinematographic flair but an exasperating fondness for hack-and-slash editing during combat scenes, director Ekachai Uekrongtham casts his material as a series of gunfights, fistfights, and emotionally overwrought dramatic scenes, the last of which are marked by Lundgren’s perpetually grimaced brooding and yelling (and rickety-knees gait), and Jaa’s blatant inability to speak more than a few words of intelligible English at a time. The East-meets-West saga opened May 8 in limited release.

Lundgren plays Nick, a Newark, N.J., cop intent on bringing down Serbian sex-slavery bigwig Viktor (Ron Perlman). When he finally does arrest Viktor, he also kills the man’s son, thus driving Viktor to murder Nick’s wife and daughter, and to leave him for dead with two point-blank bullets in his back. That’s no problem for Nick, however, who shakes off his seemingly mortal wounds — a feat he’ll repeat again toward film’s conclusion — and tracks Viktor to Cambodia. There, thanks to the nefarious machinations of turncoat U.S. agent Reed (Michael Jai White), he winds up being pursued by Thai cop Tony (Jaa), who thinks Nick is a murderous psychopath instead of a man who shares his own disgust for trafficking.

As convoluted as that plot sounds, “Skin Trade” actually proves as straightforward as one of Jaa’s trademark flying-knee attacks. If there’s little in the way of great acting to be found throughout the film, though, that shortcoming can be at least partially blamed on a script (by Lundgren, Steven Elder and Gabriel Dowrick) that stuffs one wooden, functional line of dialogue after another into its characters’ mouths, all while ignoring basic logic or coherence in the process.

Old-school action is what a film like “Skin Trade” itself trades in, and to that end, there’s something mildly refreshing about the unfussy way in which it stages its brutal skirmishes (in both the U.S. and Thailand) between Lundgren and hordes of faceless adversaries, as well as hand-to-hand showdowns between Lundgren and Jaa, Jaa and Jai White, and Lundgren and Perlman. Yet even those centerpiece throwdowns feel more obligatory than inspired. That’s in large part thanks to dull camerawork and choreography that’s devoid of any eye-popping feats (save for the sight of Jaa leaping from the ground to flip-kick a man in the back of an army truck), as well as to the nonsensicality of key moments, including Lundgren’s ability to shrug off fatal injuries as if he were some sort of anti-trafficking Terminator, and a chase sequence in which Jaa, on foot, is able to successfully keep up with a motorcycle and a car.

While just as one-note as Lundgren and Jaa, Perlman and Peter Weller (as Nick’s law enforcement boss) at least seize their opportunities to chew scenery via over-enunciated accents. Unfortunately, their cartoon-archetype turns can’t compensate for the torpid earnestness with which “Skin Trade” tackles its subject matter. For all the pained agonizing over sex slavery, Uekrongtham’s film isn’t interested in investigating how, or why, such a wretched industry exists; rather, it uses it as merely the nominal evil-scheme pretext for the noble heroics of superhuman saviors. Snapping necks and shooting limbs have rarely been carried out in service of such a principled cause — or been executed with such formulaic tedium.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Skin Trade'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., May 6, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: (Canada-Thailand) A Magnet Releasing release presented with SC Intl. Pictures. Produced by Dolph Lundgren, Craig Baumgarten, Michael Selby.

Crew: Directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham. Screenplay, Dolph Lundgren, Steven Elder, Gabriel Dowrick. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Ben Nott; editor, Victor Du Bois; music, Jacob Groth; music supervisor, Valerie Biggen; production designer, Ek Iemchuen; art director, Arkadech Kaewkotr; costume designer, Nirachara Wannalai; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Sharpe Sound Studios; supervising sound editor, Kelly Cole, Bill Mellow; re-recording mixers, Kelly Cole, Bill Mellow, Leonardo Barragan; visual effects supervisor, Marc Varisco; visual effects, Atmosphere Visual Effects; stunt coordinator, Weerapong Phumafon; associate producers, Piyasak Bhumichitra, Chaiyuth Suwannamas, Jonathan Shore; first assistant director, Cherdpong Laoyont; second unit director, Diyan Hristov; second unit camera, Nattawut Kittikhun; casting, Maureen Webb (Canada), Tharinee Thaima (Thailand).

With: Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Ron Perlman, Celina Jade, Peter Weller, Matthew James Ryder, Sahajak Boonthanakit. (English, Thai, Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • Woody Allen

    Woody Allen's 'A Rainy Day in New York' to Open Deauville Film Festival

    After being shelved by Amazon Studios in the U.S., Woody Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York” will be opening the 45th edition of the Deauville American Film Festival in France this fall. “A Rainy Day in New York,” which stars Timotheé Chalamet and Elle Fanning, will be the 8th film by Allen to play [...]

  • Phyllis Nagy

    Writers Guild Candidate Phyllis Nagy Warns of Risks to Residuals (EXCLUSIVE)

    Phyllis Nagy, who is challenging Writers Guild of America West President David Goodman, has warned that guild leaders are endangering future residuals. Nagy, in a message posted Wednesday on her Writers Forward Together site, said residual payments are the most important issue the WGA faces during upcoming negotiations on a successor deal to the current master [...]

  • Geneva Wasserman

    Condé Nast Taps Film Veteran Geneva Wasserman as SVP of Motion Pictures

    Condé Nast Entertainment hired Geneva Wasserman as senior vice president of motion pictures, overseeing development of the media company’s slate of feature film properties. Wasserman, a nearly 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry, most recently served as co-founder and executive producer of production firm Project Z Entertainment. She takes over the role at CNE after [...]

  • Annabelle Wallis'The Loudest Voice' TV show

    James Wan's New Horror Film Casts 'Loudest Voice' Star Annabelle Wallis (EXCLUSIVE)

    Annabelle Wallis, who most recently appeared in Showtime’s Roger Ailes miniseries “The Loudest Voice,” has been tapped to star in James Wan’s top secret horror project, sources tell Variety. Wan is tackling the movie this fall before he jumps into prep on the “Aquaman” sequel with Jason Momoa at the top of 2020. Plot details [...]

  • New York Festival Sets Documentaries on

    New York Film Festival Sets Documentaries on Merce Cunningham, Roy Cohn

    Films on Merce Cunningham, Roy Cohn and Oliver Sacks are among the notable titles set for the Spotlight on Documentary lineup at the 57th New York Film Festival. Alla Kovgan’s “Cunningham 3D” centers on dancer and choreographer Cunningham, who was at the forefront of American modern dance for half a century. The Cohn documentary “Bully. [...]

  • CineLink Work in Progress Provides Step

    CineLink Work in Progress Provides Step Onto International Stage

    The Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Work in Progress section has become a major venue for filmmakers from Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa – this year it saw nearly 70 submissions, the most in the past decade. The competitive program boasts a large number of projects that have gone on to achieve major [...]

  • System Crasher

    Oscars: Germany Selects 'System Crasher' for International Feature Film Award

    Germany has chosen Nora Fingscheidt’s “System Crasher” as its entry for the newly re-branded International Feature Film award at the 92nd Academy Awards, it was announced Wednesday by promotional body German Films. Produced by Kineo Filmproduktion and Weydemann Bros, the film won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, where it received its world premiere [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content