Until Death (2007)
Jean-Claude Van Damme is Anthony Stowe, a dirty narc detective in the Big Easy. He’s a heroine-addicted lost cause, with a bad case of “life didn’t go the way you planned.”
Stowe’s life, or what’s left of it, is quickly disintegrating before his eyes – and he couldn’t care less. His downward spiral comes to an end when an old enemy shows up to put him out of his misery. Only, as Van Damme reminds us, “if you wanna take a shot at a cop, make sure you kill him.”
His near death experience puts Stowe in a coma, and when he comes out, he’s a changed man. After turning over a new leaf, Van Damme goes on a righteous, bullet-fueled vendetta “to right a wrong.” Awesome.
The first half of this movie is superb – full of exciting, un-clichéd action, with better plot drivers than your average Bourne sequel, and characters more interesting than any Mission Impossible flick.
The post-coma half starts off well enough too. Stowe gets back in the good books with his estranged wife and even gets a teenage side-kick, all while retaining his badass attitude.
This project, like so many of JCVD’s more recent movies, gives the Belgian martial arts star a chance to display his elevated acting game, and he doesn’t disappoint.
He’s got the dirty cop character dead to rights. The sunken red eyes, the greasy hair, that constant ‘I’m still just a little bit high on heroine’ facial expression. He’s got it going on.
Consider that Stowe has to completely relearn how to speak after the brain-traumatizing coma, and that Van Damme actually starts to talk with a slight stutter from then on. It’s subtle, it’s understated, and you’d probably miss it entirely if you weren’t immersed in the movie at that point. Now is that some Oscar level thespianism or what?
There aren’t any weak links in the rest of the cast either. Great performances, like those from Stephen Rea (Lowe’s ex-partner and arch nemesis, Callaghan) and Fiona O’Shaughnessy, as the sympathetic bartender who’s a key player in a mid-movie twist you just won’t see coming, are the standard.
But this is where it starts to fall apart. The plot – after keeping a careful pace for the first three acts – suddenly feels rushed in the last quarter of the film, and the final climactic gun battle, which should be the gun-powdered cherry on top for this action thriller, falls completely flat. It’s too long, the kills aren’t nearly as big and bold as the ones that came before, and after a while, you just start to lose interest.
Until Death also has some very bi-polar production values. Most of the movie is well staged and shot, the sets and cinematography are all Hollywood-level slick. And let’s not forget about that cool 360 degree ‘tumble’ effect the camera does at certain action-charged moments. Good stuff.
But then we’re subjected to this choppy, direct-to-video slow-motion (you know, the kind they use on season finales of bad crime shows), and gunshots that sound more like corner store fireworks than ballistic weapons. And in a movie of continuous gun battles, that’s a problem.
Those unsatisfying gunshot sounds haunt Until Death all the way through, taking some of the impact and ‘oomph’ out of scenes that would otherwise be totally badass.
Let’s face it, when Jean-Claude Van Damme bursts through a door and drops everybody in the room with shotgun blasts – it just has to sound right.