It’s fun to imagine Pound of Flesh could have been the first in a JCVD-meets-urban-legend franchise. We’ll likely have to settle for a single entry, this barely simmering actioner whose most distinguishing features, besides its “Boom! I got your kidney” plot, may be the super-low-budget trappings and lackluster storytelling. This isn’t to say it’s horrible or incompetent; but that it’s not terrible despite its debits is probably the most generous assessment of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s latest, a watchable oddity.
Pound of Flesh finds JCVD teaming up with late-career collaborator, director Ernie Barbarash. Barbarash tries to liven up the proceedings early on with some out-of-sequence scenes in order to build intrigue as to why Van Damme, shortly after checking into a hotel in China, is waking up purple-lipped in an ice bath. A blood-soaked sheet, vials of pain pills, and those gigantic stitches on his back tell the tale: Somebody has stolen one of Van Damme’s kidneys. And they picked the wrong ex-black-ops Muscles from Brussels for harvesting body parts.
Turns out he was saving that kidney for someone special—his brother’s daughter, who’s in the hospital awaiting a transplant. That he’s a match for his niece is also the source of hard feelings between JCVD and his bro, the sensitive, college-professor dad (John Ralston) who raised her. The siblings and two other main characters—a reluctant femme fatale and one of JCVD’s seasoned connections with the Asian underworld—bare their souls while holed up together in a van and a safe house, leaving our hero that much less time to kick his rivals into their next life.
And so Pound of Flesh offers what no JCVD fan in their right mind would want: too much moody exposition, too few fists and kicks of fury. But so long as you temper expectations, you might get some pleasure out of watching Van Damme nurse a perpetual cold sweat (he is down a significant pound, after all) and brood his way through each halfhearted scene. There’s even a moment for one of his gratuitous leg splits, just to show the old guy’s still got it.
Even an immortal line like “Where is my kidney?” is delivered unceremoniously, and all we can think of is the wasted opportunity. While we’ll probably never get that sequel where Van Damme tracks down the madman who left his hook in the car door at Lovers’ Lane, we at least have the comfort knowing he likely would have screwed up that story too.
Director: Ernie Barbarash
Writer: Joshua James
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, John Ralston, Charlotte Peters, and Aki Aleong
Release Date: May 15, 2015 in limited theatrical release and on VOD
Tampa-based critic Anthony Salveggi has been reviewing films since 2009. You can follow him on Twitter, which he occasionally remembers to update. He’s trying real hard to be the shepherd.