When I was a lot younger, I took a particular fancy to two martial art superstars: Raphael of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Hong Kong Phooey. There was also another guy running around at that time named Jean Claude Van Damme. Two of his first movies namely Bloodsport and Kickboxer solidified him as a complete badass and eventually landed him a role in Street Fighter: The Movie as Guile. Eventually when he started making duds such as Double Team& Knock-Off, most people stopped watching his high flying kicks. Soon Van Damme was headed for the direct to dvd releases. One of those movies was the 2003 release, In Hell.
Van Damme plays the role of Kyle Le Blanc. Kyle is an American working overseas and has a beautiful wife named Grey (played by Marnie Alton) who is somewhat happy but lonely to be the housewife. Late one night while Kyle is coming home, the lights go out in the Le Blanc house. Grey goes to the switchbox and flip the breaker only to find her face to face with a robber named Sergio (played by Mihail Elenov) who attempts to rape her. Kyle hears the commotion via cellphone and rushes home to save her.
However, Kyle gets home a little bit late as Sergio kills the young Grey. Kyle chases the crook down the streets of Russia where they are both nabbed by the police. The trial proves to be uneventful as Sergio is released due to lack of evidence & mob influence. In rage, Kyle murders Sergio in cold blood just outside of the courtroom. Kyle is prosecuted and sentenced to life without parole in a tough Russian prison.
Adjusting to life in prison is hard where nobody likes Americans and the warden (played by Carlos Gomez) has it out for him the minute he walks in. The warden is also running a lucrative gambling ring where the prisoners fight to the death. After Kyle is forced to compete in the ring, Kyle is able to channel his anger (including a brutal scene where he actually chews through the jugular of his opponent) and become the number one fighter of the prison.
As Kyle wins more fights, he begins to lose his identity and his sanity. His cellmate, 451 (played by Lawrence Taylor) tries to convince him to cling onto his moral values and not descend into the depths of the hellish prison. However, with each day the American loses another piece of his life and slowly is becoming the monster that killed his wife and took away what he held most dear.
One question needs to be asked before we continue. Why must every prison movie of the last ten years that is trying to be gritty have to feature prison sex? No, I’m not talking of some fantasy about an all-girls prison either. I’m talking about Oz sex. Man on man action where one participant is crying and carrying on because he’s never done anything like this before. We understand this happens in prisons around the world, but why do you have to show it, graphically?
As if that wasn’t enough to make us feel uncomfortable, the movie’s acting consists of mostly guys who don’t speak and rather grunt through most of their lines. Most of the speaking is handled by Kyle, 451 or the Warden. In addition, I think that in most movies we actually need to like a few of the characters. There are almost no likeable characters here, they are all brutal and are portraying the lowest scums of life imaginable. Van Damme is also portrayed as a complete pansy who gets in some lucky shots until the last thirty minutes of the movie where he turns into the fighting machine we have come to know him for.
To be honest, the last thirty minutes of the movie is the only thing that kept it from being a complete disaster. Lawrence Taylor finally starts acting and Van Damme realizes who the heck he is and we actually have an enjoyable movie on our hands. The problem is that it happens too little too late. By then, our opinion is already soured by the lack of interesting plot points and too much male on male rape to appreciate what is going on. If they had let Van Damme be Van Damme instead of trying to win some award (whatever award they give out to gritty prison movies that actually involve a poor form of acting), they would have come away with a much more enjoyable movie.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. The colors are okay for the prison drama but more often than not they appear washed out and very dark. The picture’s lighting attempted to go more realistic but the problem is that we can’t appreciate what we can’t see. Fairly average presentation.
The audio is provided in 2.0 English Dolby Digital. One might be thinking that the box says 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. It does. Too bad the box lied. Furthermore, the 2.0 is one of the worst imaginable. The dialog is soft, the action isn’t much better and the audio makes the viewer feel completely cheated. Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish and I came pretty close to turning on the English ones and not because of any of the accents.
- Automatic Trailers: Sukiyaki Western Django, Strays, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, & The Proposition.
- Making of Hell 15:38: The lone real extra goes over the movie making process and goes over various aspects. Van Damme feels its his best movie (it’s not, Bloodsport was) and the director Ringo Lam is apparently one of the toughest people on record to work for. Translation: he’s an ahole.
- Original Trailer 0:52: It only runs about a minute long and does nothing to advance the marketability of the film. Heck they don’t even mention Lawrence Taylor who actually turned in a decent performance.
Normally, they are very few movies in my review pile that actually disgust me. I’m a pretty lax guy who is willing to even give Saturday morning corny classics a rating of 3 or better. However, there are movies on record that fail to spark my interest and actually make me turn my head. In Hell fits the bill. Mediocre acting, questionable directing and things that are not only cliché but I never want to see in another movie again. The disc is also misleading as it tries to lure in the viewer with promises of 5.1 DD sound only to find nothing there but a weak 2.0 mix. The only thing good I can say about the movie is that the movie was placed in steelbook packaging which looks pretty nice. Too many movies these days try to be edgy when they should just be a popcorn flic. Van Damme comes in, he beats people up and he exits cleanly. Nobody gets hurt except the bad guys. Instead the viewer is the one holding their gut and looking to not lose their lunch. Not recommended unless you need the case to be melted down for scrap so you can have some change to buy other releases.