Jean-Claude Van Damme loses a kidney to organ traffickers but (naturally) exacts considerable revenge in the neatly titled “Pound of Flesh.” This Canadian-produced, Manila-set, largely China-shot actioner is conceptually pedestrian but decently handled in all departments. Plus of course it’s always fun to see the Muscles From Brussels back in the arse-whupping saddle, sinewy and limber as ever if looking rather gaunt here. It launched Stateside at theaters, on VOD and iTunes May 15; theatrically, star’s might may have dimmed in the U.S., but the pic should do decent biz internationally and in home formats.
Deacon (Van Damme), a mercenary of sorts specializing in “kidnap and rescue” missions, has just arrived in Manila when he spies a damsel in distress on the street. A few well-placed kicks later, her assailant skedaddles, and the attractive young Brit, Ana (Charlotte Peters), treats her savior to some drinks — and a one-night stand. But the next day he wakes up alone in a bathtub full of ice, with a large stitched-up wound on his back and a hotel bed soaked in blood. His kidney has been stolen for the lucrative organ-trading medical black market, and Deacon is determined to get it back.
We soon learn this isn’t just a matter of retribution, or even personal health: Our protagonist actually came here to donate a kidney to the ailing daughter of his widowed, semi-estranged brother, George (John Ralston). And as he’s the only surviving relative who proved a perfect donor match, the loss of that kidney means she will probably die within a few months.
Professorial, religious George is his brother’s opposite — they were raised on separate continents by divorced parents, and perpetual bad-boy Deacon’s latest crisis at first strikes his sibling as just another in a long line of shady, violent consequences to a shameful life. But they must stick together for now in the hopes of saving George’s little girl. Figuring they have just a few hours before the kidney is implanted in its buyer, they go on a hectic tear (helped by Leonard Gonzales as Deacon’s old confederate Kung) through the city. The first priority is tracking down mysterious Ana, who when found pleads that she was forced into the organ-theft plot and desperate to buy her way out of a contract of presumed sexual slavery.
The protags’ serpentine odyssey encompasses a stop at a floating underground fight club and leads finally to a reptilian rich man’s (David Booth) manse. There’s plenty of vigorous action along the way, of course. But scenarist Joshua James makes an effort at inserting more human interest than such movies usually hazard: At the one-hour point, there’s a surprising stretch of dialogue angst over faith, sacrifice and guilt. While the results aren’t wildly depthed or moving, they’re still nicely integrated enough to lift “Pound of Flesh” a tad above genre average. Credibility is somewhat stretched by our star’s ability to incessantly kick butt while seriously injured (and on morphine). But hey, you don’t go to a JCVD movie for kitchen-sink realism.
Helmer Ernie Barbarash’s third feature with the topliner gets good seriocomic mileage out of the fraternal dynamic, with George frequently aghast at being pulled into high-risk situations where he nonetheless (if sometimes just by accident) rises to the occasion. Performances are solid, packaging ditto, albeit not inspired enough to make this decent genre entertainment a memorable one.