After a couple of tournament movies Jean-Claude van Damme now plays a Canadian cop named Louis Burke who is sent undercover in a prison to investigate a couple of murders. While he is trying to survive on the inside a female partner is helping him put the pieces together on the outside. One of the major threats to his life comes from The Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick) a serial killer caught by Burke in the opening scene but eventually transferred to the same prison where Burke is undercover.
Since the majority of the movie takes place in a prison it’s obvious that the budget of this movie wasn’t really high. All those sets don’t cost much and neither do the little known actors in this movie. Yet somehow, due to the cinematography and lighting, the movie is elevated from the standard low budget fare that is released week in, week out.
Van Damme’s justification to be a movie star is his martial arts skills and the script provides him with plenty of moments in secluded places like laundry rooms where he must fight hostile inmates like Al Leong and eventually The Sandman in a final showdown. When he’s not fighting some inmate he’s looking for clues as to what happened to the people who were murdered.
What I wondered was if sending some guy undercover in jail was really the smartest move the people could make. Why not have some investigative team do a surprise visit, seize all the files and sweep the prison for clues as well as doing autopsies on the bodies of the murdered people? Probably because you don’t have a movie then, but still, it would have made more sense.
I also had a bit of a problem with his nationality. He’s a Canadian cop but apparently followed The Sandman to LA. Since when do Canadian cops have the right to go into the US, kill a criminal in cold blood (even if it’s out of self defense) and get off without any argument whatsover?
The prison in Death Warrant seems to be run by the inmates to a certain degree. There are guards, doctors and wardens in the movie, but somehow it seems as if the inmates can do what they want as long as they don’t leave the compound. At one point Burke’s character is introduced to “Priest”. Some sort of gang lord I suppose who has the whole basement to himself and his transvestites. Since this isn’t the only movie where prisons are depicted like this, it’s probably the way prisons really are. It seems to me that by running prisons like this, you never really rehabilitate people, so when somebody has served their sentence they’re are still as criminal as they were when they got locked up, or even worse. But a simple action movie like Death Warrant doesn’t really deserve such a discussion.
While in terms of plot this movie has more than Van Damme’s previous efforts it’s still a simple action movie of which the reason behind the murders becomes evident to us viewers long before Burke realizes it himself in the movie. It’s a fun little flick, but instantly forgettable.