Thursday, December 30, 2010

Death Warrant (1990)

Death Warrant is essentially a nice mash up of every prison movie cliche in the book featuring Jean-Claude van Damme as a Mountie on loan to the LAPD (I think) to investigate a series of brutal murders at a maximum security prison.  Our Belgian hero plays Louis Burke who we first see taking down a demented serial killer known as The Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick).

From there, Burke is given the undercover assignment and an assistant on the outside, a lawyer named Amanda Beckett, played by Cynthia Gibb.   Gibb doesn't really make much of an impression outside of being attractive, mainly because her character is the very definition of a cipher.  Faring better is Robert Guillaume as the obligatory prisoner who befriends Burke.  Sure it's a stock character that Morgan Freeman perfected in The Shawshank Redemption but Guillaume still provides solid support as does Art LaFleur as a nasty prison guard..

Not quite as solid is the screenplay, an early effort by Dark Knight scribe David Goyer.  This was the first script he ever sold and boy does it ever read like something from a novice!  The Sandman is introduced in the first scene but is never even mentioned again until he shows up at the prison (transferred by the ringleader behind the murders) to out Burke as a cop and set up the finale.

It turns out the murders are being carried out by prison official;s (including the doctor played by a pre-Star Trek Armin Shimmerman) in order to harvest organs, a rather nice idea that would work better with a more seasoned writer.  A better idea would have been for ?The Sandman to be more directly tied to the murders.  Sure it would be obvious if he was doing the killing, it would also make some semblance of sense.

Bu to be fair, common sense is not what we watch these films for.  We watch them for the action.  There is a little here and there but what there is is quite solid.  There's a nice punch-up between Burke and a prisoner played by perennial punching bag Al Leong I've always been a fan of the guy, easily one of the best henchmen in action movies.

The only other real action bit is the finale between Burke and The Sandman.  The killer proves to be quite resilient, which is the only clean word I can think to use to describe a guy who can take being tossed into an industrial oven and keep on ticking.  It would be even better if he was in more of the movie.  As it stands, Kilpatrick does a good job playing a creepy villain, but he's sadly undercut by a weak script that doesn't use him nearly enough.

Problems aside, this is a perfectly good, very entertaining time killer and one of van Damme's better early films.


  1. I love this one. My favorite scene was after The Sandman emerges from the oven, with flames on him, and he Stops, Drops, and Rolls. He was teaching us kids a lesson while trying to kill Van Damme.

  2. Agreed, that's a classic moment. I also love how Burke puts several bullets into the guy and yet he shows up a year and half later not really showing any ill effects. Great stuff.


About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.