In Hell (2003)

Genres - Action, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Prison Film  |   Run Time - 98 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jeremy Wheeler

For some reason, Hong Kong veteran Ringo Lam just can't stop working with the high-kicking, lamebrained Jean-Claude Van Damme, as evidenced in the 2003 straight-to-DVD stinker, In Hell (titled The Savage to the rest of the world). For action fans, there aren't too many reasons to still have faith in the faltering "Muscles From Brussels." His choice of films has either been grounded in reliving previous territory (he's played double roles three times, folks) or so out there that there's no way mainstream audiences could appreciate his affinity for the outrageous (see his collaborations with Tsui Hark for further proof). This prison film takes the Belgian madman's search to be an "actor" to the next level, complete with Biblical symbolism and little to no action to get in the way of his character's journey. Bewildering in its tendency to deny the audience what it wants (Van Damme is repeatedly given the beat-down for the entire first hour), In Hell then unknowingly panders to the other side of the star's audience -- the ones who love to goof on the big guy, and boy, does this one deliver to their end! You get Van Damme pulling a total Jesus trip -- complete with long hair and a beard -- while trying to be the action genre's first martyr of the small screen. Also completely cheesy and noteworthy are his two best friends in the flick, the soft-spoken ex-football star Lawrence Taylor (who actually has more lines than anyone in the film, though they're completely lost in the audio mix) and, no kidding, a CG butterfly that represents Van Damme's ex-wife in some roundabout way. Of course, there's the brawling -- though fight fans beware; while brutal, each scene is shot with absolutely no flair or style, and is only there to serve the overall message of the film. To be sure, this film is not really an action movie. There is no visceral edge to the violence, even though both the star and director have built their careers upon such dynamic action. Instead, this is a vehicle with overblown, weighty aspirations that will be a gas for some, while tedious and completely worthless for others. If you know your Van Damme, you should know on which side of the line you'll be.