The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Kill 'Em All (2017)

I saw this was free on Tubi, and I had to make it happen. For a while, a lot of Van Damme's DTV stuff was harder to get on free streaming services, so I wanted to take advantage of a time when one like this was. Now it looks like a lot of them, including this one, are available again, so the rush to make it happen may not have been warranted, but you never know with streaming services, and at least it's been watched, so now I'm reviewing it. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action have covered this, so you can go there to see what they thought.

Kill 'Em All has Van Damme as a mysterious man who we find on the verge of death, probably having gone through a horrible ordeal. We also have Autumn Reeser as an emergency room nurse being interrogated by the FBI about a shootout that happened at her hospital. What does she know about this mysterious Van Damme guy in black? As she tells them what she knows, we get to see the film in flashbacks--her flashbacks, but flashbacks nonetheless. What is this Van Damme guy up to? What are his motives? What do the Serbian mafia have to do with it all? I guess we need to sit back for 90 minutes and wait to find out.


This is one of those ones that isn't horrible, but the storytelling device I mentioned above gets in the way a bit. I liked what they were trying to do, but from a movie standpoint, I always find that jumping back and forth to be disruptive. Beyond that, there was a great cast: beyond Van Damme and Reeser, we had DTVC favorite Daniel Bernhardt; big picture stalwarts Peter Stormare and Maria Conchita Alonso; and someone we haven't seen since we reviewed 2002's painfest Whacked! in 2008, Paul Sampson. On top of that, the action is pretty good, but we're also saddled with this construct of Van Damme's character having a concussion that, like the classic leg wound, is an issue when it is, but isn't when it isn't, if you know what I mean. By 2017's DTV standards, this isn't bad, and if you're a Van Damme fan, a free stream isn't a bad deal to make it happen.

Mr. Van Damme is closing in on his 61st birthday in a few weeks. 12 years ago, when we covered JCVD, I mentioned then that in that film he was complaining how he was almost 50 years old and he couldn't do those one-shot scenes anymore. By the same token, he was in Pound of Flesh seven years later at 55 showing off his trademark flexibility and trademark buttcheeks. In that latter film, like this one, he's playing someone younger than himself, someone born in the early 70s instead of early 60s. I kind of get it here though, as he needed to be the right age to fit with the unrest in Eastern Europe that his character was born out of. From an action standpoint, he's good here, but it felt like a lot of his fights were him dominating--especially his one with Bernhardt, which I'll get to later. It's like the Seagal problem, where he can never lose, only at least here the fights have more choreography and Van Damme isn't spending the whole film sitting. Maybe we should take our small victories when we get them.


Speaking of that Bernhardt fight. My issue was, it wasn't a good "these guys both know how to fight" fight, it had Van Damme dominating, so it didn't really show off what Bernhardt could do, or really give us the payoff we're looking for when we're pitting Van Damme and Bernhardt against each other from the start. It wasn't as bad as Seagal and Byron Mann in A Dangerous Man, but bad enough. As far as Bernhardt, this is now his second film on here since we've come back from hiatus, the other being Santa's Summer House, and while he had more martial arts and action in this film, I think his part in Santa's Summer House gave him more to work with. He was one when we started the blog that we had pegged as a future Hall of Famer, especially with his work in the Bloodport sequels; but then he tailed off, and we even recognized it then, in the late 2000s, that he was doing more smaller parts in big budget films--or even smaller parts in DTV films that had bigger names in them. This was more than that here, but to some extent it also followed the trend a bit too. I wonder if the main issue was, once JCVD fell into the DTV world, the parts for Bernhardt dried up. A similar thing happened to Gary Daniels, and he went a different route, getting leads in lower budget fare in places like Thailand--even doing faith-based films. How can we knock it though when Bernhardt is getting parts in big films like the John Wick franchise?

I want to get back to the storytelling device used here. For me, as someone who enjoys writing novels in my spare time, I can see how this may have looked good on paper--though even trying to map it out as a novel, it still feels like it would come off as something that would hurt the momentum of the plot to go back and forth like that, so imagining it in an action film is worse. They attempted to mitigate that by making the interactions between Reeser and her interrogators, Stormare and Alonso, more tense, but I feel like a storytelling device shouldn't need to be mitigated. Beyond that, I get that there's a bit of a Rashomon element here, as we're getting the story from the viewpoint of what Reeser wants her interrogators to know, but when we think of Rashomon, we don't see this kind of back and forth approach, each story in that is delivered individually. Action is a tricky thing, and I think we see just how tricky with all of the attempts we've witnessed over the years to reinvent the wheel with it.


This is another one that has Van Damme's son, Kris, in it, which I always like seeing. It seems like Van Damme kicks his ass a lot, which I kind of also get too--you need to pay your dues in this industry before you get to be the lead--look at Frank Grillo, who's finally getting those parts now. By the same token, there's a sense, whether it's Kris or his daughter Bianca, that Van Damme is passing this business down to his kids. That feels more authentic than just "your dad's Van Damme so he's going to get you into the movies," if that makes sense. According to IMDb, Kris hasn't done a film since 2018, but hopefully we'll see more of him in the future, especially getting his ass kicked by his dad in movies like this.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, this is free to stream on Tubi, Crackle, and Plex here in the US. I think that's the way to go, especially if you're a Van Damme fan. Beyond that though, the storytelling style of going back and forth with flashbacks was disruptive, and makes it hard to recommend if you have to pay for it.

For more info:

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!


No comments:

Post a Comment