Wednesday, 19 April 2017
Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 1990s - Death Warrant
As the collective headache of the 1980s buzzed on into the 1990s, all the plugged-in action stars were considering the cinematic possibilities of the jail stretch, perhaps in an effort to capture the momentary cultural interest created by a failing war on drugs and a burgeoning, for-profit prison industry. Schwarzenegger got in early, making his Stephen King adaptation bones too, with The Running Man. Stallone fired back with the middling, would-be heartfelt Lock Up, while Jackie Chan faded into the incarcerated ensemble of Island of Fire.
Death Warrant, by dint of being a by-the-numbers example of this action sub-genre, offers an interesting comparison point for Jean-Claude Van Damme as a leading man. With a well-worn set of expectations in place, it's easier to see what it is exactly that Van Damme brings to the table. Martial arts are an obvious addition, largely confined to a bruise 'em up finally that has Van Damme kicking a supernatural opponent around and into a blazing furnace. Less expected is the unpretentious sensitivity the actor brings to every single interaction.
Van Damme's Detective Burke likes to touch, to reach out and make a connection, not always to injure either. The character displays an atypical gentleness when dealing with other male inmates. When Robert Guillaume's hard-won ally catches a debilitating injury not only does Burke delicately treat his oozing wound, he touches the man on his face and pats his chest to reassure him. Above all, Van Damme exudes a confidence that suggest a man in complete command of his sexuality. This conviction melts women's hearts too. The film's love scenes between Van Damme and Cynthia Gibb's lawyer may stutter dramatically but there's no denying the fitful, jelly legged longing Gibb summons up for their finale kiss.