STUDIO: First look Pictures
MSRP: $13.49
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
The Making of In Hell

The Pitch

It’s Death Warrant minus the laughs.

The Humans

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lawrence Taylor, Lloyd Battista, Carlos Gomez, Manol Manolov, Chris Moir, Billy RieckRaicho Vasilev, Michael Bailey Smith, Marnie Alton.

The Nutshell

After he kills his wife’s murderer, American Kyle LeBlanc (Van Damme) is sentenced to life in prison in a nightmarish Russian prison where the corrupt warden and guards make the inmates fight for their own sport and profit.  Kyle is forced to become something akin to an animal to survive, engaging in fight after fight for the amusement of his jailers and losing his identity in the process.  It’s only through conversations with his deceased wife and the teachings of a feared inmate named 451 (Taylor), that Kyle finds himself and turns the tables on the warden and guards.

It was then and there that Van Damme realized he really should have read exactly what part he was going to play in this prison movie…

The Lowdown

This marks the third pairing of JCVD and director Ringo Lam, or fourth if you count Wake of Death, on which Lam did uncredited work.  With their previous effort, Replicant, Lam got Van Damme to go in a somewhat different direction acting-wise, and not putting quite so much effort on the chop socky, although he shot that fine.  He manages that here again, as this is one of Van Damme’s grittier performances.  There’s no fancy spinning kicks, and Van Damme doesn’t play some sort of ethereal bad ass this time out.  He plays a regular guy who has to become a cage fighter in order to survive and loses himself along the way.  On that note the film succeeds.  Where it ultimately fails however, is that the first half is essentially a snooze and Kyle really isn’t that interesting a character.  Oh sure, this is a prison movie, and there’s the customary manrape and alpha male brutality.  But it’s not until Van Damme’s Kyle makes the decision to do what he has to in order to survive, to become something he’s not that the movie starts to pick up some steam.

The Passion of the Christ shoot, Day 1: Jesus gets beat down by Romans, spin kicks all their heads off.  Mel Gibson realizes he needs to fire casting director…

Along the way, he gets some guidance from 451, who’s a dime store prison Yoda and occasional dispatcher of cellmates.  There are also some weird scenes with a CGI moth who is the spirit of Kyle’s murdered wife seeking to get him back to his own sensibilities (yeah, that was a tad on the WTF? side).  And there’s the inevitable prison yard battle scenes, in which Van Damme takes on a muddy, scruffy UFC role, beating the local champion.  But when he finds himself thanks to 451 and the moth, he becomes Cool Hand Luke and renounces fighting, inspiring the other inmates to become better people along the way.  I’ve liked Van Damme boing back to Bloodsport, even though his films for the most part became ridiculously predictable and formulaic.  I like that he seems to be at least trying to evolve and there’s evidence of that in this movie.  Also props to him for willingly getting down into the muck repeatedly for the role.  In Hell is barely worth a rent, and you’d do better to catch it on cable some time.  Still, you could do worse, even if you only include other Van Damme titles.

“You know why you’re here, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I knew Knock Off and Double Team were going to land me in Actor Jail sooner or later…”

The Package

Two questions I basically have regarding
this re-release of a five-year-old Van Damme flick: where
exactly was the demand for this and why did the issuers think that a metal
box qualifies and one special feature qualifies as a “limited edition?”  There’s a press kit-worthy behind-the-scenes titled appropriately enough, The Making of In Hell that looks like it was shot with a home video camera and some trailers, including one for Sukiyaki Western Django.  Film looks decent enough, but audio is annoyingly low and muddled in the dialogue sometimes.  Hardly a limited edition type of presentation.

4.9 out of 10

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