AKA: Six Bullets, The Butcher
Director: Ernie Barbarash
Writer: Chad Law, Evan Law
Producer: Brad Krevoy
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Joe Flanigan, Anna-Louise Plowman, Bianca Bree, Kristopher Van Varenberg, Terese Cilluffo, Charlotte Beaumont, Steve Nicolson
Running Time: 115 min.
2011’s “Assassination Games” was anticipated as the beginning of a possible comeback for Jean-Claude Van Damme: it paired the aging action star with hot newcomer Scott Adkins and managed to secure decent theatrical distribution in the United States, a first for Van Damme since 1999’s “Universal Soldier: The Return.” Fans were doubly disappointed, then, when “Assassination Games” turned out to be a lukewarm effort. Most viewers cited the lack of action as a major flaw of the film, which Scott Adkins would later explain was the result of the filmmakers being pressed for time.
Thus, expectations weren’t exactly high when it was announced Jean-Claude Van Damme would reteam with the director of “Assassination Games,” Ernie Barbarash, for his next film “The Butcher” – even though Van Damme promised he’d been hitting the gym for the role and that fans would notice a ‘physical difference’ in him. Now Sony has unceremoniously delivered the movie to DVD under the new title “6 Bullets.” The physical difference Van Damme spoke of seems to be the many scenes of him without a shirt on (and he’s still looking buff). Although the generic title doesn’t help its case, “6 Bullets” is actually a step above “Assassination Games” and many of Van Damme’s other recent direct-to-video outings such as “Second in Command” and “The Hard Corps.”
The setting remains the same – a drab Eastern European country – and Barbarash maintains the same dour, color-drained look as “Assassination Games,” but this time around there’s a good deal more action and Van Damme seems invested in his role. Van Damme’s son, Kristopher Van Varenberg, returns as well – although he’s been criticized for delivering stiff, unnatural performances in movies like “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” and “Dragon Eyes,” Kristopher actually acquits himself rather well here. It likely helps that Kristopher is playing the role he was born to play: Van Damme’s character’s son! But the duo have a warm familial bond that shows onscreen and adds some much needed humanity to what is otherwise a very dark film.
The story of “6 Bullets” offers a twist to the familiar plot of “Taken.” An MMA fighter (Joe Flanigan) and his wife are in Moldova for a big match when their 14 year-old daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers. Desperate to find their daughter in a country where they don’t speak the language or know the local customs, they turn to Van Damme’s Samson Gaul. Van Damme plays a tortured mercenary with the soul of a poet – the kind of role he practically invented. His character is haunted by past mistakes but is the best at locating and extracting missing children.
The real issue with “6 Bullets” is that the film’s dreary look and depressing human trafficking plot mean that there’s not much of the usual escapism or, well, entertainment value that you’d expect from a Van Damme action movie. As good as Van Damme is at playing the melancholy ass-kicker, scenes of underage children being held in captivity and bodies burned by acid baths almost make one nostalgic for JCVD’s wise-cracking “Time Cop” days. Regardless, “6 Bullets” is one of the better direct-to-video movies of recent years and still miles ahead of Steven Seagal’s regular offerings. The 115 minute runtime could have easily been trimmed to a much tighter 90 minutes, but if all you want is to see Van Damme filet a few bad guys with a kitchen knife and shoot a rocket launcher at a jeep, you’ll go home happy.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 6/10