After a massive shootout, a mysterious stranger (Van Damme) arrives at a local hospital on the brink of death. Then, a foreign gang brazenly comes to the hospital to hunt him down.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Jean-Claude Van Damme. The man moved from Brussels to Hollywood, determined to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, and for a period of time, from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s, that’s exactly what he became, a huge action star, appearing in high-profile flicks such as “Kickboxer,” “Double Impact” (my personal favorite), “Universal Soldier,” “Hard Target,” “Timecop,” and “Sudden Death.” Unfortunately, like so many other action stars of that era, Steven Seagal, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and even Bruce Willis, he was slowly relegated to direct-to-DVD fare, with such unforgettable titles as “Legionnaire,” “The Order,” “Wake of Death,” and “The Shepherd.” But I don’t feel too sorry for him because he is making a living appearing in these movies, as are the other aforementioned actors. Every now and again though, he makes a film that is actually quite good, I rather enjoyed “Replicant” and thought out of “The Expendables” series to date, he was the best villain by far. But for every up, there must come a down, and “Kill ‘Em All” is exactly that.
The movie takes place in a hospital as Van Damme is out for revenge (what’s new?) and we spend most of the film watching him suffer and grit his teeth through searing pain, as his co-star, Autumn Reeser, actually steals the show. We are given a brief backstory about Van Damme’s character Philip as a young boy, who lived in Serbia and whose father was killed by an ex-minister, Dimitri Petrovic (Eddie Matthews). Years later, when Philip got older, he changed his name, and after disciplining himself in martial arts and weapons training, managed to become one of many personal bodyguards to Dimitri. He waited for the right time to strike, to seek revenge for his father’s murder and that is where the film picks up in the present day. After a shootout at a hotel, Dimitri, wounded in the crossfire, is brought to a local hospital in Los Angeles which is about to be closed down, and which is housed by a skeleton crew of doctors and nurses. With the rest of his bodyguards protecting him, Philip enters the hospital and one by one, takes them out, until he comes face to face with Dimitri, who now knows his real identity. Along the way, Philip is injured and Suzanne (Autumn Reeser), a hospital nurse, stays with him because he is keeping them alive.
Early on in the movie, during the shootout at the hotel, Philip is wounded and he spends most of the movie falling down from his head injury, and gritting his teeth through the pain. This is fine in the beginning as it reminds us that he is only human after all but it gradually becomes bothersome as he continues to do this for the remainder of the film. “Kill ‘Em All” is not one of Van Damme’s finest and while there is some fighting along the way, the majority of the story tries to focus on character development and story exposition instead. With a title like “Kill ‘Em All,” people do not sit down to watch Van Damme act, they want to see him kick ass, and plenty of it. And that is where this movie falls down, it tries to force you to care about the characters onscreen and while Van Damme is his usual dependable self, everyone else doesn’t fare as well. Autumn Reeser does her best with a role that quite honestly, could have been played by anybody but she proves to be a worthy adversary to Dimitri and his men in a nice little twist. Maria Conchita Alonso and Peter Stormare, two actors I have always respected, are reduced to caricatures who seem like they are reading their lines from a cue card. There is absolutely no emotion from them whatsoever and at times it is downright embarrassing.
It’s hard to recommend a movie based on one aspect alone and thinking back over the story, I find it almost impossible to applaud any element of the film because as a whole, which is what it should be, it does not come together, it falls apart and occasionally, when it appears that it might reassemble into some sort of cohesive structure, it crumbles back down to the very foundation it came from. Van Damme will be around for a long time to come so if you want to watch a really good movie of his, watch “Double Impact,” for an added layer of good ol’ ’90s cheese, then wash it down with a giant helping of “Universal Soldier,” followed by delicious dessert with “Hard Target.”
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