release year: 2003
genre: jail action/drama
viewing setting: home DVD, 12/15/03
synopsis: A normal guy workng in Russia sees his wife murdered, kills the guy who did it, and gets a life sentence in a brutal Russian prison where the inmates are made to fight each other.
impressions: High production values, interesting characters, and a basic plot about having to fight yet not becoming a savage...isn't that nice? Maybe, but it also means that we get YET ANOTHER MOVIE BILLED AS A FIGHTING MOVIE THAT REALLY ISN'T. Van Damme has become the king of direct-to-video movies and this is why. I guess he (and writers, and directors) just don't understand that people rent his movies to see him kick ass. While this movie is a good try at something else, it's going to alienate everyone - people who hate anything not rated "G" won't like this, and people who want to see good fights won't like it. You can't walk the middle of the line here. And you also can't make me believe that a guy can get the crap beaten out of him for the whole movie, then start doing push-ups and jogging to get ready for the toughest fight yet. Note to film-makers everywhere: fans of big action stars don't want to see those stars portraying steel workers, or oil workers, or firefighters, or environmentalists, or cooks (not that there's anything wrong with those professions.) Fans of big action stars want to see their big action stars portraying former SEALs, tough cops, ex-military types, retired assassins, and so on.
things to watch for: Not much. Every single fight is ruined by bad direction that ceases the action too soon.
something this movie has that no other movie has: A Van Damme character who feels so sorry for himself that he tries to commit suicide!
acting: Van Damme is superb as a normal guy who ends up in a tough prison. I just don't understand how he survived as long as he did. The big guy who played the quiet cellmate was pretty good, mostly in voiceover, with some philosophizing about prison life. The main warden guy was suitably nasty, ditto for the main evil inmate. A couple of other stock prison movie archetypes made appearances as well.
final word: Good for showing how nasty prison can be, bad in any action-movie sense.
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