In the Shepherd (or The Shepherd: Border Patrol depending on your DVD cover) Jean-Claude van Damme plays Jack Robideaux, a former New Orleans homicide detective now joining the border patrol of Columbus, New Mexico where illegal immigrants are trying to cross the border aided by drug smugglers who in return force these people to bring heroin into the U.S. These people are also wired with C4, so should anyone of them get caught by the police they blow him or her up. Jack keeps the reason why he’s joining the border patrol to himself just like the reason as to why he’s carrying around a rabbit.
The drug smugglers consist of a group of ex-commandos who have killed off two rivaling Mexican Cartels who operated in the region. They try to bring in $35,000,000 worth of heroin in a specially prepared bus full of nuns and priests. Jack thwarts their plan, making them lose their product and him a their target.
After the more serious Until Death, The Shepherd is a return to the more action oriented movie that made Van Damme famous in the first place. It also marks the first time he and Scott Adkins collaborate together. They would do so again in The Expendables 2, Assassination Games and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. Van Damme’s skills are introduced in a classic bar fight in which some local tries to provoke him because the waitress seems to fancy him. He swiftly takes out this guy and his buddies in a scene that reminded of The Rundown, in which the Rock does the same in the same style as Van Damme does here; punching, kicking and using objects within reach. Jean-Claude van Damme: Once a trend setter, now a trend follower.
The Shepherd is a fine example of a D.T.V. action movie done right. It has a fluent pace, a simple plot full of cliches, some cool fights and Scott Adkins who belongs in the pantheon of formidable Van Damme baddies. We’ve seen Van Damme take on plenty physically inferior characters/actors stacking the odds in his favor: Raul Julia, Ted Levine, Stephen Rea and plenty of other unknown actors. Van Damme movies are at their best when they have memorable physically superiot villains like Tong Po, Attilla and Chong-Li. Adkins has skills and his fighting style brings something fresh to this movie. His fight with Van Damme at the end was better than we’ve seen in most Van Damme movies released the past few years.
Being a D.T.V. movie it also falls into the usual pitfalls, most notably the location. Most of these movies are shot for cheap in Eastern European countries which they then try to pass off as locations on entirely different continents. This was also evident in Second in Command where they tried to pass off Bulgaria/Romania as the Middle East. In The Shepherd they try to pass off Bulgaria, where it was shot, as New Mexico. After 5 seasons of Breaking bad the whole world has quite a good idea of what New Mexico looks like and it’s nothing like Bulgaria. This is mostly evident by the vegetation, buildings, the amateurish looking border sets and the lack of sun and desert. Apparently the makers are aware of Bulgaria looking nothing like New Mexico because at one point one of the characters even mentions how New Mexico isn’t as sunny as he would have expected it to be.
This is probably also the reason a lot of outdoor scenes take place at night and there are a lot of indoor scenes. In fact, the whole finale takes place in the drug lord’s mansion.
As most of you know Van Damme has shown impressive growth as an actor over the past few years by taking on tormented characters. While The Shepherd provides him with a more laid back movie which focuses more on fight scenes they have given his character a traumatic back story which links directly to the aforementioned reasons of him signing up for border patrol and walking around with a rabbit. The rest of the cast consist of little known actors who aren’t notable bad or good. They all belong to the cliche staple of action movie characters: the strong female captain, the treacherous partner who’s on the take, the ruthless ex-military bad guy.
The Shepherd is an enjoyable Van Damme action flick even though it’s mediocre in all of the departments save for the fight scenes. This is no highlight of his career but after the depressing Until Death a welcome breath of fresh air with an added bonus of Van Damme trying out some new fighting styles. It won’t be on anybody’s list of great Van Damme flicks, but it’s hardly a Derailed or Knock Off.