You want a death warrant? Spend $6 and you can get one in the shape of a ticket for the latest Jean-Claude Van Damme project, "Death Warrant." You know this one is trouble when Van Damme's first words to intruding thugs go something like "Eyema beeezzzeee -- sskremm!" For much of this frequently unintelligible film, "sskremming" will be very much on your mind.
Van Damme, the only martial arts hero who regularly kisses women, is cast as Lou Burke, a maverick cop sent undercover into a prison that has seen a string of suspicious deaths. There he encounters sadistic guards, sadistic inmates and sadistic scriptwriters who take turns putting Van Damme into uncomfortable situations, which he must then punch and kick his way out of.
Among Van Damme's foils: the Sandman, a psycho-slasher dispatched in the first five minutes, resurrected for the last 20 (Patrick Killpatrick, looking and moving just like "Halloween's" Michael Myers, though he's not wearing a mask!); Amanda, a lawyer assigned to play Burke's wife (poor Cynthia Gibb); and the wizened old inmate Hawkins (Robert Guillaume, obviously relishing the opportunity to play a not-so-goody-two-shoes).
All the characters mumble, perhaps out of sympathy for the Dutch Van Damme's ongoing struggle with their native language. As for plot, it unravels more quickly than the mystery facing Van Damme. Even the setting, and its attendant tensions, are overly familiar from the recent new wave of prison films. At least the dead stay dead with this "Death Warrant," but frankly, my dears, you won't give Van Damme.
Death Warrant, at area theaters, is rated R and contains some violence.