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Skin Traffik (2015) Review

Skin Traffik was directed by Ara Paiaya (Rage, Death List), written by Adam Davidson (Maximum Impact Rage), and stars Gary Daniels (The Gardener, Bring Him Back Dead), Dominique Swain, (Eminence Hill, Meteor Moon), Michael Madsen, (Every Last One of Them, Burial Ground Massacre), Daryl Hannah (The Final Terror, 2047: Sights of Death), Jeff Fahey (The Commando, Locked In) Eric Roberts (Alter Ego, The Surprise Visit), Alan Ford (Alice, Through the Looking, Winter Ridge) and Mickey Rourke (WarHunt, Night Walk). It follows a regretful hitman who now finds purpose in killing those he used to carry out contracts for, throwing a wrench in their business as he goes.

The Plot: A variety of villain-turned-anti-hero plots have been put up on the big screen. Some are phenomenal, others are abysmal, and an innumerable amount are somewhere in the forgettable middle. Skin Traffik comfortably sits somewhere in that middle stretch. It doesn’t reinvent the formula like Leon: the Professional, but it does have an interesting and seldom-seen episodic structure that adds more than it takes away. Bradley (Daniels) takes a contract from the Executive (Roberts) to get a disk from Vogel (Rourke).

If that isn’t a plot point from the 90s, I don’t know what is. During that job, he accidentally kills Vogel’s daughter and swears off being a hitman. Six months later, he gets into a scrap and saves Anna (Swain) from traffickers who worked under the Boss (Madsen) and Zhanna (Hannah), which puts a target on his back.

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The Characters: All of the players are just as familiar as the story they’ve been placed in here, but Bradley is given a handful of quiet moments for development and Daniels does a good job with what he’s been given in the script; which isn’t that much. Bradley doesn’t have a family or any friends, not after the Vogel job anyway, but is experienced enough to know that he’s in deep after what he did. He has conviction for his new distancing from violence for a while, initially turning away from Anna even though she was being roughed up in broad daylight. It’s not a decision that lasts long, but it gives credence to the seriousness of his choice.

As Skin Traffik goes on, and he spends more time with Anna in trying to keep her safe and finding her sister, they develop a friendliness, though Bradley doesn’t commit to being friends. Anna doesn’t really get much aside from being in her predicament, but she does get some decent quips and clearly cares about going home only under the condition that her sister goes too.

Surprisingly, the two main characters don’t get together, which makes sense considering Bradley’s behaviour. It’s nice to see his character be consistent. The bad guys are just bad guys, and they’ll tell it to Bradley’s face, too. With the movie’s focus on Bradley and Anna and the business, they’re all in, ten personal scenes are hardly necessary to tell the audience what they already know.

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The Action: Despite being 52 years old during Skin Traffik’s production, Daniels still has just as much agility and strength as he did when he was 25, and he gets to show all of that off in Skin Traffik; which gives him some quality action scenes to punch, kick, jump, and shoot in while still taking some beatings himself. One bit in a Park House is terrific, giving Bradley multiple adversaries to fight on top of some stairs, in which Paiaya keeps his shots wide and sweeps the camera with Daniels’ kicks.

Most of the action scenes are filmed with the same energy that Bradley has, as he uses his environment (and obviously his skills in Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing) to his advantage. For a low-budget movie, Skin Traffik does a good job at providing action that doesn’t just focus on gunfights and martial arts. There are some legitimate car chases in which cars do flips that result in crashes and explosions, and none of that cheap stuff where the vehicles get shot 30 times with CGI bullets that don’t leave a scratch.

Well, there is one car that has some CGI fire on it, but what can you do? While most of the action scenes aren’t the greatest ever put to film, it’s good stuff and Daniels gives it his all.

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The Technics: Sound issues can plague Skin Traffik at times, with inconsistent audio mixing between actors when they speak and some sound effects during action scenes that don’t quite match what’s happening. They’re synced up just fine but feel underwhelming and don’t have the punchiness that the action itself does. Some weird cuts to black that are used as transitions could’ve been done better as well. There’s an abruptness to them that stifles the swift pacing and takes that episodic structure just a little too literally. Paiaya does remedy the minor issues with some directorial flair.

His willingness to let Daniels and the stunt team do what they do best with only a few cuts is refreshing and there’s always something going on in the shots, whether that’s movement from the camera, the use of music where other low budget movies may be without it, or occasional slo-mo; Paiaya has a good eye for action movie making. Skin Traffik is clearly low budget, but it won’t let the audience know that it knows.

Skin Traffik doesn’t have the best story or the best characters or even the best action, but it does have the ambition to show for its faults. Daniels gets to do some real acting, and he runs away with it, making the most of a thin character. He, the action, the pacing, and the passion from the director elevate what could’ve been just another lumbering action movie to a pulsing meal of gritty meat and potatoes.

Skin Traffik is available on various Digital platforms as well as on DVD and Blu-ray. There was a Facebook page created for it, but apparently never used.

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