“They stole his kidney, he wants it back” is a great basis for a mindless action movie starring a one of the action stars of yester-year. Jean-Claude van Damme stars in Pound of Flesh as Deacon Lyle, the guy who wakes up in a bathtub filled with ice and one kidney missing, just like the urban legend. While any regular guy would be recovering for days, Deacon is a guy with a long shadowy history making him such a bad-ass that after mere hours of the theft he’s kicking ass and taking names in Manilla.
The reason he wants his kidney back is simple: he was already supposed to donate one to his niece who will die if she doesn’t receive one within a couple of months. Apparently somebody else also needed a kidney and found a perfect match in Deacon, thus claiming the kidney before he could donate it.
Do you need any more plot? Of course you do!
To give Pound of Flesh some extra padding the niece turns out to be Deacon’s daughter. Apparently he has knocked up his brother’s wife a long time a go, something which still does not sit well with the pretty religious George (John Ralston). This element generates tension between the two brothers who together try to locate the missing kidney with the aid of a local and former criminal Kung (Aki Aleong).
Pound of Flesh, which is the first time a Jean-Claude van Damme movie has a title that refers to Shakespeare, is a movie that contains both the best and the worst you can find in a Van Damme movie. This is a well acted, simple plotted entertaining action movie with some nice fight scenes. On the other hand this also is a movie with not that many fight scenes, pacing issues and some of the worst green screen effects I’ve ever witnessed.
Unlike Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude van Damme always gives it his best and his performance here is pretty damn good actually. From the opening scenes where he finds out what happened to him to the somewhat tragic ending: his performance was convincing. The simple plot keeps things up and running nicely, though it’s very unlikely someone would be in that good shape mere hours after having his kidney removed. I once had my appendix removed and I had trouble walking the first two days. There are some nice intense fight scenes which, aside from Van Damme doing a split while being dragged by a car and beating people up with a Bible, are pretty generic.
Here’s something I have a hard time understanding. 25 years ago Van Damme made all of these low budget movies for companies like Cannon. Movies that were made for under a million dollars. If you needed a scene taking place inside a house or a bar, you would just use a set and shoot the scene. It’s as simple as that, or was apparently. Pound of Flesh features multiple scenes obviously filmed in front of green screen. Obvious because the lighting of the characters doesn’t always match the lighting of the backgrounds, but also because the masking has been done sloppy creating a blur between the characters and the superimposed backgrounds. It’s not just one scene: there are multiple scenes where they are driving in a car with fake backgrounds, they’re walking through a club which is created with CGI and at one point somebody is walking into a mansion and the background is clearly fake. This really had me questioning as to why this needed to be done with the computer. I can only guess that in post-production they felt scenes were missing parts and they had to shoot something extra, but the location wasn’t available any more, so they used a green screen and lifted backgrounds from material shot on location.
If they had just left out the whole “you boned my wife” element out of the story, made the fight scenes more memorable and had some better green screen work Pound of Flesh could have been a really good action movie. Now it’s just a generic Van Damme DTV-action movie: watchable, but not memorable.