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Pound of Flesh (2015) Review

“They stole his kidney. He wants it back.” So reads the back cover of the Pound of Flesh Blu-ray. That and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s name were all I needed to buy the film when it came out, and years later it’s still one of my favourite tag lines. It’s also why this is the perfect film for today’s review. Because when this is posting, I’ll be losing a kidney as well, although hopefully under more orderly circumstances than Deacon Lyle (Jean-Claude Van Damme, The Bouncer, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) who wakes up in a tub of ice water with an incision in his side.

Hazy memories, so hazy they’re sepia toned, come back to him of landing in Manila the day before and seeing Ana (Charlotte Peters, Interlude in Prague, To Hunt a Tiger) getting slapped around by Drake played by Darren Shahlavi, (In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, The Marine 3: Homefront) in one of his last roles. He intervenes, and she shows her gratitude by going back to his hotel with him, where she spikes his drink and sets him up for unplanned surgery.

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This is where it gets complicated because he planned to have it removed anyway. His estranged brother George (John Ralston, Tainted, The Infinity Pool) contacted him to tell him his daughter needs a kidney to save her life. And for some reason, Deacon’s is a match rather than his. With no time for him to get properly sewn up, Deacon grabs some morphine for the pain, and with some help from his old friend Kung (Aki Aleong, Abduction, Sci-Fighter) sets out to retrieve the organ and save his niece’s life.

Pound of Flesh was the third collaboration between Van Damme and director Ernie Barbarash after Assassination Games and Six Bullets. Here he’s working from a script by Joshua Todd James (Alien Uprising, Take Cover) that seems unsure what to do about the star’s age and condition. While he looked, and still looks, better than the likes of Steven Segal his age and the effects of his movie star lifestyle are impossible to hide.

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Having him play a character with a similar past helps, as does having him use a gun more often than in previous films. The fight scenes he does have, while fewer in number, still have a fair amount of flash to them. That includes using the cover of a Bible, George is a man of God, to put an opponent’s eyes out and being dragged by a moving car while doing the splits.

Unfortunately, it also means more dialogue scenes and an attempt at a deeper plot than the film needs. The constant back and forth between the two brothers as they argue over the morality of Deacon’s methods and just about everything else just drags everything else in the film down. They should have had George in a few scenes at the beginning and then at the end for the big reveal you’ll have guessed long before.

That said, I didn’t expect Pound of Flesh to play out the way it does once Deacon tracks his missing kidney down. It’s a genuinely unexpected twist that, while not without its problems, does play nicely into his character’s redemption arc and allows Van Damme to remind viewers he can act when given the right material.

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In the end though, while Pound of Flesh does have its moments, there isn’t enough of the right material to offset the talky script or technical gaffes like obvious green screen work and several scenes where it’s clearly Van Damme’s stunt double on the screen. Rather than try to be so serious, the filmmakers should have leaned into the plot’s over the top elements and made a film that lived up to its premise. Instead, it suffers from multiple identities as it shifts back and forth from action film to family drama that at times approaches soap opera.

As a result, while Pound of Flesh is still better than a lot of other DTV action films, it never rises about middle of the pack. And with a plot and promo like it had, it should have risen well above that level.

Pound of Flesh is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital, including Tubi in some territories.

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