Death Warrant (1990) Directed by Deran Sarafian. With Jean-Claude Van Damme, Robert Guillaume, Cynthia Gibb, Art LaFleur and Patrick Kilpatrick.
Aside from being one of the more competent Jean-Claude Van Damme action vehicles, Death Warrant is perhaps most notable for boasting a first writing credit for David S. Goyer, whose work alongside Christopher Nolan has rubber stamped his name as a symbol of quality. Let’s not get too carried away, though. While Death Warrant has a certain production value, it is still the same old JCVD kicking the crap out of people against the backdrop of a flimsy plot.
The story has JCVD, a cop, going undercover into a prison to weed out some kind of wrongdoing – a place where the generic bad guys are lining up to be high-kicked into the next straight-to-video Van Damme release. The fighting is always the main draw of a Van Damme film, and in 1990, he was very much in a career ascendency phase. While A-listers like Stallone and Schwarzenegger were filling multiplexes with their glistening muscles, Van Damme was enjoying success in the VHS rental market, finding a loyal audience eager to see him do his thing.
While it’d be a stretch to describe it as ‘any good’, Death Warrant is the sort of trash that you can enjoy with a like-minded friend, with its rapid-fire editing during the fight scenes and its laughably po-faced stance. Very much a genre film, it refuses any kind of irreverence, preferring to showcase Jean Claude Van Damme in his prime, doing what he does best. The prison plot begins well, but the characters are little more than stereotypical archetypes amid a plot that suggests an intriguing subtext around the racial divisions of life behind bars, but one that ultimately gives way to the joy of punching and kicking. Not flat out stinker, but still, pretty smelly. 2/5