The immortal Jean-Claude Van Damme returns to action cinema in the surprisingly solid Wake of Death, certainly his most accomplished straight-to-DVD work to date. Now, in no way is the film a Hard Target or even a Bloodsport, but for this aging action star, this sucker might as well be renamed "Double-Fisted Shakespeare." Jean-Claude flexes his acting muscles to new extremes in this one, highlighted by a classic two-minute scene of him breaking down and uncontrollably weeping for his dead wife that hearkens back to his embarrassing drunken ramblings in 1999's Desert Heat or even his virtuoso pseudo-Jesus role in Ringo Lam's yawn-fest In Hell. Of course, this being a cheeseball action flick, his thespian chops are rudely interrupted by a samurai Triad busting through a plate-glass window right in front of him, but by that time, you're quite ready for some "Van-Dammage." The movie also features the action star's most lurid sex scene to date, where viewers are subjected to a lot more than they bargained for (or even wanted in the first place). The action, however, is filmed and edited quite nicely -- a shock for even the most jaded digger of low-budget action junk. Fine stunt work graces an inventive motorcycle chase through a mall, while the gunplay is coherent and the violence extremely brutal. The mob storyline also gives the filmmakers the chance to throw in a wicked torture scene involving a power drill that's both delirious and jarring to the senses. In the end, the whole thing is one big cliché, but you only have to root through the junk that this guy has put out over the years to see how much of a step up this really is. Of course, it does make one long for the days when the Belgian-born brawler was coked-up and making surreal action flicks with Hong Kong directors like Tsui Hark (see 1998's Knock Off), but there is some sort of gleeful satisfaction to see this new brand of Jean-Claude Van Damme -- the actor!
by Jeremy Wheeler review