To this day, Jean-Claude Van Damme is one of the most beloved figures in the action game. With JCVD’s latest effort Kill 'em All, longtime stunt and fight choreographer Peter Malota steps behind the camera to make his directorial bow. But is this actioner simply a cheap sucker punch that relies on the Muscles from Brussels’ iconic reputation, or is this a picture that high kicks its way to success?
Plot-wise, the film centres around a hospital that just so happens to find itself in the middle of a bloodbath. Explained through flashbacks by Suzanne (Autumn Reeser), a nurse who saw the whole ordeal play out, we see how Philip (Van Damme) was one of several victims brought to the medical facility after an assassination attempt went awry. From there, we see how Daniel Bernhardt’s angry gun-wielding Russian turned up, knocking up the ante in the process as several would-be assassins descend on the hospital with Philip in their sights. Where Suzanne comes further into this is in how she ends up alongside JCVD’s Philip as he has to fight against the odds to make it out of this hellhole situation. As Suzanne narrates her account of events to a couple of FBI agents – Maria Conchita Alonso and cult favourite Peter Stormare – who aren’t necessarily buying what she’s selling, they begin to allude further to the backstory of this battle’s key players. Was Philip successful? What was the real motive of these nefarious sorts? Just how many of Jean-Claude’s patented roundhouse kicks do we get to see? And will any of this make any sort of sense?!?!
Of course, this being a low-budget effort from a first-time director, some may go in with caution upon viewing Kill ‘em All. With that said, there are actually some impressive elements to Malota’s debut picture in the director’s chair. Autumn Reeser is on strong form as the guiding hand through this tome, and Peter Stormare is as scene-devouring as ever. As for the brutality, some of the action scenes snap, crackle and pop with a ferocity that would rival any bigger budgeted actioners. Unfortunately, though, there are ample, ample problems that ultimately take away from Kill ‘em All’s plus points. For example, those aforementioned great fight sequences? Well, there’s a whole slew of poorly acted-out other action scenes to cancel them out. Then there’s the dialogue, which is truly awful. Sure, a sense of cheese and quipping wise is always to be expected in such a picture – and we love us a good dose of cheese here at Moonbase Alpha – but the lines spouted out here are often groan-inducing and delivered in a brutal fashion by certain players. Throw in some awful faux accents, and several unwanted genre tropes - disposable rent-a-villains, anyone? - are starting to be ticked off. And as ever, twists and turns begin to unravel as the film plays out; some twists that are maybe trying a little too hard to be clever at times.
What about the main man himself, though? Well, Jean-Claude Van Damme is a mixed bag here. As longtime Van Damme fans, we’re always rooting for him in the plentiful pictures he puts out these days. In Kill ‘em All, however, JCVD doesn’t look all that bothered. And who can blame him, considering the dialogue and script he has to deal with. Action-wise, Van Damme’s scenes largely shine brightly, making up for the lethargic performance given in the more dialogue-driven moments.
For first-time director Peter Malota, there’s moments of promise to see here, and it’s clear that his strong suit is obviously the action side of things. Certain slowed down shots and edits are poorly judged, mind, and the script he has to work with would be problematic for any director.
While many will be swayed by kicks to faces, guns, knives, Eastern European assassins disguised as strippers, and the prospect of Jean-Claude Van Damme doing what he does best, all of these elements are unfortunately overpowered by a stinker of a script, some absolutely hideous performances from certain supporting players, and an overall feeling of nonplussed ‘meh’ – which is never good. One for the Van Damme purists only, we're afraid.
KILL ‘EM ALL / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: PETER MALOTA / SCREENPLAY: JESSE CILIO, BRIAN SMOLENSKY, CRAIG STEWART / STARRING: JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME, AUTUMN REESER, PETER STORMARE, MARIA CONCHITA ALONSO, DANIEL BERNHARDT, PAUL SAMPSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW