Sony // 2012 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 26th, 2012
To save a life, every shot counts.
Jean-Claude Van Damme starring in a movie with Col. John Shepperd from Stargate Atlantis? I. Am. So. There.
When the daughter of UFC fighter Andrew Fayden (Joe Flanigan, Stargate Atlantis) and Monica Fayden (Anna-Louise Plowman, Stargate SG-1) is kidnapped by sex traffickers, they have no choice but to turn to Samson Gaul (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Nowhere to Run), a former mercenary who specializes in rescuing kidnapped children. Unfortunately, Gaul has gone into self-imposed exile as a butcher after a mission went wrong, meaning the Faydens will have to convince him to take the job if they have any hope of getting their daughter back alive.
Like the previous collaboration between Van Damme and director Ernie Barbarash, Assassination Games, their latest effort 6 Bullets plays more like a serious drama with action elements than it does one of Van Damme's old-school outings. Part of that has to do with the subject matter; it's hard to make a fun shoot-em-up (or, more accurately, a fun karate-chop-and-splits-em-up) when dealing with sex trafficking. But part of it is just Barbarash's approach, in that he clearly likes action movies and knows how to stage competent set pieces, but isn't satisfied to make standard genre stuff. 6 Bullets rests uncomfortably between two worlds: die hard action fans are going to find it plodding and overly serious, while everyone else either won't take it seriously because it stars Van Damme or will be put off by the violence and occasional ugliness. At nearly two full hours, the movie overstays its welcome by nearly a half hour. It doesn't feel padded as much as it does slow, with long stretches of repetitive plotting between the kicking and shooting.
But the movie still works because it's willing to take itself seriously, and features another good performance from Van Damme, who -- on the heels of being the single best thing about Expendables 2 -- has been crushing it lately. This is another one of those later-career roles in which his face expresses all kinds of sadness, and it works to great effect (anyone who has seen JCVD has some idea where that sadness comes from). He's not just sullen and mopey. He carries a tremendous weight with him -- the guilt of feeling responsible for the deaths of innocent children -- and it drives him to a life of solitude, drowning the past in bottle after bottle of alcohol.
As much as Van Damme is the star of the movie, I like that he's treated almost as a supporting player; the film being told through the eyes of the Fayden family. It affords Samson Gaul an even greater air of mystery and makes him even more of a badass -- albeit a broken one. The Faydens are mostly underdeveloped as characters. Joe Flanigan isn't the first person that comes to mind when thinking "UFC fighter," but that's why he has a neck tattoo, I guess. The movie fails to make use of his sarcastic sense of humor (one he showed so regularly on Stargate Atlantis), but this isn't really material that has room for comedy. He does get to fight and shoot a gun a couple of times, which I appreciated, even if the transformation of the Faydens from normal concerned parents to John Matrix-style soldiers is a little tough to swallow. Plowman's explanation for being a total badass? Her "dad was a cop." Okay...
There is nothing original about 6 Bullets, blending elements from two decades' worth of action movies into one effort. In some ways, it's a lot like Taken, if another family hired Liam Neeson to get their daughter back. Barbarash is building an interesting filmography for himself, alternating between generic TV movies and some of the better Direct-to-DVD offerings of recent years. He's clearly a guy interested in the story substance, as much as he is in action, and the result exists somewhere between a drama and an action movie. Barbarash has found a good leading man in Van Damme, as both genres play to his current strengths. Who would have guessed we'd someday be praising Van Damme as an actor back in the days of Kickboxer?
Sony delivers 6 Bullets in a solid, no-frills DVD (no Blu-ray is currently available). The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is fine; colors are naturalistic, black levels are good but shallow, and there's no visible print damage (nor should there be for a brand new movie). The Dolby 5.1 Surround track handles the dialogue well, though that's pretty minimal, and does a bang-up job on the action sequences. The surrounds are used to good effect, infrequent as the explosions and gunfire end up being.
Sadly, there's not a single extra included on this release. As much as I'm inclined to complain about the fact that it's 2012 and studios shouldn't be releasing bare bones discs, it's preferable to one that has only the requisite EPK behind-the-scenes fluff.
6 Bullets falters, when trying to take on more than it's capable of pulling off, but it's still another solid direct-to-DVD effort from Van Damme, who continues to do some of his best and most interesting work 15 years out of the Hollywood spotlight. I would like to have seen him in more action scenes with Flanigan, who isn't given much to do but look worried, but oh well. Someone get to work writing them a buddy movie now, please.
Better call Gaul.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R