In Until Death Jean-Claude van Damme plays Stowe; a cop who’s addicted to alcohol and heroin and disliked by the majority of his colleagues. When things go south during a drug bust resulting in the death of two undercover officers Stowe’s venture into self-destruction accelerates. Things at home aren’t helping as he’s in the middle of a divorce and the soon-to-be-ex-wife is pregnant with somebody else’s baby. When Stowe is shot in the face and subsequently in a coma for over six months he awakes a changed man, who wants to redeem himself.
Until Death is Jean-Claude van Damme’s “Bad Lieutenant” and while the movie contains its fair share of gun fights it’s more of a drama than an action movie. Though it’s not strange somebody would expect an action movie just by looking at the box cover artwork. It has Jean-Claude looking shifty and carrying a gun, somebody in the background getting shot and the tagline “Vengeance is his”. It’s completely misleading as there is hardly any vengeance stuff going on, at least not in the traditional way like, let’s say, Wake of Death. In fact, it takes up until 50 minutes for Stow to get shot and go into a coma. Up until then this movie was very reminiscent of both Bad Lieutenant movies: Stowe being in the middle of a botched operation, snitching on a fellow cop, shooting up and forcing a prostitute to have sex with him for free. That last one is one of the more memorable scenes as he fucks her quite harshly over a pool table.
After he awakes from his coma he has a long road of rehabilitation in front of him and he somehow finds his still-wife, since it’s hard to get a signature under the divorce papers from a man in a coma, to help him by taking him in for the time being. Much to the displeasure of her boyfriend. Stowe tries to make amends for the stuff he’s done but also finds out that the drug lord he was trying to take down in the first part of the movie isn’t done with him.
Until Death is yet another movie in which Van Damme shows us his ability to act rather than his ability to kick ass. He plays a drug addict who has to recover from a serious injury and learn how to speak properly again. It’s not Academy Award winning material, but he does sell it and proves once more that he gives it his very best even though these movies end up straight to DVD. Despite his performance I was hardly rooting for the character of Stowe, much like the bad lieutenants played by Harvey Keitel and Nicolas Cage, his character hardly has any redeeming qualities. This is a problem because when he tries to redeem himself, I never thought he really deserved it.
The movie also has some pacing problems as it takes up to 50 minutes to get to the actual point where the tables are turned. Before that it’s a lot repetitive stuff about how Stowe does bad deeds. The bad guy only plays a small part during the first quarter of the movie and the finale, making him feel like an obligatory character just because the movie somehow needed an end-boss. Because the movie is centered so much around Stowe redemption it feels out of place to end the movie with this big shoot out. Until Death is also very moody as there is room for only one or two jokes in the movie, something which is the case with most of the movies Van Damme made during the 00’s.
Despite the flaws in the movie you’ve got to admire what Van Damme delivers here. Instead of churning out the same type of movie over and over he actually tries to create something that isn’t worthy of the monicker “DTV movie”, but rather movies that surprise the audience in terms of devotion and quality. It doesn’t always work, but you can’t fault the leading actor in this case.
Until Death isn’t as enjoyable as other DTV outings by Van Damme like The Hard Corps, but it’s a movie that solidifies his status as an actor. People expecting an action movie in the vein of his next one, The Shepherd, are going to be disappointed. Until Death is more like In Hell than Replicant.