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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Thriller > Until Death (Van Damme)

Until Death


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: D     Film: C








Jean-Claude Van Damme continues to try hard and ends up giving his best performance yet in his latest direct-to-DVD actioner, Until Death.  The film itself starts out surprisingly strong with Van Damme playing a seedy, heroin-addicted New Orleans narcotics detective with marital problems determined to nab the city's most powerful drug lord (Stephen Rea), who, apparently, is his former partner -- the movie never makes their history and adversarial relationship entirely clear.


The first 42 minutes of Until Death are edgy and quite interesting with Van Damme playing a ruthless, amoral cop who's closer to Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant than the usual Van Damme action hero.  But after the 42 minute point, it turns into the action movie equivalent of Regarding Henry and becomes a lot less interesting as Van Damme's sleazy cop gets shot in the head and then turns into a really nice guy.


The formulaic last hour of Until Death really disappoints because those first 42 minutes show such promise and feature an action star taking an intriguing risk by playing an unlikable character.  It's as if the filmmakers and the star wanted to make a different, darker Van Damme movie, but got cold feet thinking Van Damme's core audience could only accept so much of the mean Jean-Claude.


Until Death reminded me of when Chuck Norris tried to do an edgier vehicle with The Hitman (1991), playing a supposed antihero always dressed in black.  But like Van Damme in this film, Norris was only willing to take the badass thing so far, making his character an undercover cop and only pretending to be bad in order to catch some even worse guys.  That gave Norris an out, just as Van Damme's good deeds in the second half here conveniently atones for his earlier bad behavior.


Until Death is the latest of several recent Van Damme films to be photographed by the talented cinematographer Doug Milsome, who's become stuck in B movies after once having worked for major filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick and Michael Cimino.  Milsome's contribution at least makes Until Death a lot better looking than the typical straight-to-DVD fare.


Sony's DVD gives the film a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.  Both picture and sound are solid. The only extras included are trailers for several other Sony direct-to-DVD actioners, including Van Damme's previous collaboration with Until Death director Simon Fellows, Second in Command, as well as Van Damme's last film, the pretty good The Hard Corps.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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