If you don't pay much attention to non-theatrical movies, you may have
missed the fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme is experiencing something of a
career revival. His career is taking the exact opposite path from our favorite
pudgy paladin, Steven Seagal. While Seagal's post-theatrical career has been a
steady stream of worthless dreck, interrupted only by an occasional foray into
mediocrity, Van Damme's recent movies have been the best of his career!
Granted, that was not a high hurdle to clear.
Wake of Death
The Hard Corps
Nowhere to Run
No Retreat, No
Soldier: The Return (1999)
His last really poor movie was Derailed in 2002. Since then he has made
seven films, and they are seven of the top eleven in his filmography.
I haven't seen any of the other six, but Until Death is absolutely a
watchable movie. Jean-Claude plays a real bastard of a cop. He's a junkie and
a drunk. He's a disheveled slob. He abuses women. He has no loyalty to his
fellow officers. He treats his partner like shit. He seems to have no friends,
and no tender feelings. His life changes dramatically when an attack by
his crooked ex-partner (the ever world-weary Stephen Rea) leaves him in a
coma. When he awakes, after several months without booze or junk, he is
suddenly able to see what an asshole he has become, and starts out to make
The film is not without its problems. The first is character development.
The behavior and dialogue of Van Damme's screen wife indicates that he used to
be a good guy, and not too long ago. After the coma he becomes a good guy
again. What is not clear to me is how and why he could have become such an ass
A second problem is that some of Van Damme's fellow cops are completely
unbelievable as police officers, in both their overall demeanor and their
grooming. Also disappointing is the fact that Van Damme doesn't really do any ass-kicking with his
fists or feet. He takes out his antagonists with handguns, which makes him the
same as any other screen cop, and makes an observer wonder why they hired the
Belgian Bad-Ass for the role in the first place.
The second half of the film, after he turns from a Belgian Bully into a
Belgian Waffler, righting all the world's wrongs and virtually rebuilding all
the Hurricane Katrina damage with his bare hands, is not as much fun. In fact
it's downright routine. There are some hackneyed "passage of time" montages
showing Rea taking over the New Orleans mobs, then there are scenes of Van Damme doing more good
works than Mother Theresa and Jimmy Carter combined. Finally Van D gets even with
Rea in an improbable face-off in which Jean-Claude and one sixty-year-old fat
guy manage to defeat the entire criminal underworld of Louisiana in a
Notwithstanding those matters, the first half of this film, with Van Damme
as a total prick, is atmospheric and interesting, and the middle-aged Van
Damme surprises us all by making an excellent antihero. He should consider
making the transition completely to character acting and become a professional baddie,
because he seems to have some genuine talent for it.