Review: Kill ‘em All

A massacre has occurred at a soon-to-be closed down hospital where only the Emergency Room is currently still active. Nurse Autumn Reeser has been brought into FBI headquarters for questioning over the bloody affair by agents Peter Stormare (!) and Maria Cochita Alonso (!!). They’re particularly interested in anything she can tell about the man who saved her life (Jean-Claude Van Damme) by taking down a slew of hired killers (including Daniel Bernhardt, Kris Van Damme, and Paul Sampson).

During what I like to refer to as their ‘post-career phase’, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s output seems to be a lot better and more consistent than his 80s-90s cinematic action hero (turned fellow DVD action hero) counterpart Steven Seagal. So it’s with surprise and somewhat of a heavy heart that I report that this 2017 action-drama from debut director Peter Malota (a fight and stunt co-ordinator who worked on several JCVD films including the first “Universal Soldier”) is easily JCVD’s worst film since 2002’s abysmal and cheap “Derailed”. This is sadly a boring, talky, poorly structured film that manages to find the exact wrong way to tell a not very interesting story, and doesn’t give its star much room to either show his action skills (which aren’t as impaired these days as Seagal’s), nor does he give one of his better acting turns post-2001, either. He spends much of the film either badly wounded, silent, or out of breath. That’s a massive waste of the man. This is really lousy and it’s a shame Van Damme signed up for it.

The big problem here is that Van Damme’s not the main character, nor is the film told from his point of view. This is a film told mostly in flashback, from the POV of nurse Autumn Reeser, in an hilarious piece of miscasting. Reeser, whom you may remember from her stint on TV’s not-bad “The O.C.”, is way out of her depth here in every facet of her character, never remotely credible. Since the film largely revolves around her, it’s a fatal issue I’m afraid. I mean, sure Peter Stormare playing presumably an American-born FBI agent is a little tough to get around, but at least the guy can act and has screen presence. Reeser is way too mousy for a role where ‘wide-eyed innocent caught up in a fubar situation’ is only one of the character traits meant to be on display. She may sound a bit like Amy Adams, but boy does she not have her talent.

The structure isn’t only an issue to do with Reeser, though. It also makes sure that the story unfolds in slow-motion, the last thing you want from a JCVD film. It kills any sense of pacing, energy, or urgency whatsoever. Add to that some irritating filmic tricks (shaky cam for scenes meant to be sedate, strobe lighting nonsense), and a supporting role for Maria Cochita Alonso who still doesn’t know how to act, and…yeah, this movie and I weren’t gonna get along. At all. Even worse, we also get Stormare narrating some flashbacks to JCVD’s troubled upbringing, causing me to yell ‘GET ON WITH IT!’ in Monty Python fashion. The dialogue for the interrogation scenes is atrocious, matched by the performances of Alonso and Reeser. On the plus side, we get to see Van Damme Jr., Kris Van Damme offer up a brief display of martial arts kicking against his own father (the film’s best moment), but sadly he’s not in the film much nor is their enough action elsewhere in the film. The lack of martial arts action is bizarre given the kicking-talents of both JCVD and Swiss kicker Daniel Bernhardt (playing the lead villain who spends way too much of the film off screen and given no chance to make an impression) among the cast. However, when we do get martial arts action, that stuff isn’t too bad, even with the awful camerawork. For Autumn Reeser’s character I have to say though, for someone who apparently has a black belt in aikido…she’s played by Autumn Reeser, who looks to have a black belt in shoe shopping and sipping lattes. There’s a slight chance that it’s a veiled dig at Steven Seagal (who has said unflattering things about JCVD over the years for no good goddamn reason), but I think it’s just really bad casting and acting.

There was a way to do this film right, I truly believe that. This dull, poorly structured film finds all the wrong ways to tell its story. In fact, instead of taking inspiration from a Metallica album, it should’ve re-purposed a Tom Cruise flick title and been called “All the Wrong Moves”. Even some of Steven Seagal’s recent output isn’t this bad. Scripted by Jesse Cilio (Seagal’s “The Perfect Weapon”), Brian Smolensky (who wrote and starred in something called “Searching for Fortune”), and Craig Stewart (a debutante), none of whom seem to have a clue how to have made this thing work.

Rating: D+


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