Really I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one but I do want to make a few points. First, the plot is a good one involving Van Damme going undercover in jail to find out who’s been killing off the prisoners one by one. He isn’t subtle about being a cop either. On his first couple of days he goes so far out of his way to make friends with one particular guy (Robert Guillaume (Rafiki from The Lion King)) that he thinks can be an ally on his mission (of course he turns out to be right). Van Damme also meets a lot of people very quickly and asks them all really suspicious questions. I get that the filmmakers moved the investigation along for the sake of the movie but it makes all the prisoners look pretty stupid. Anyway, we eventually find out that the prison is harvesting the inmates’ organs to sell them on the black market which I have to admit I did not see coming. That’s kind of a crazy twist and I like it.
Second, this thing looks and feels sorta cheap. It tends to ride the border between A and B picture shuffling back and forth depending on the scene. The reason I bring this up is because two of Van Damme’s previous films, Bloodsport and Kickboxer, both look better than this one in my opinion. Death Warrant feels like a step back in terms of production and that was a little surprising considering his career was heating up at the time.
Third, this was written by David Goyer. Yea, the same guy who wrote Dark City, Blade and essentially all the Nolan Batmans. The man has good story ideas.
Fourth, this is not an action movie.
This one’s pretty lackluster and was made in the same year (1990) as arguably Van Damme’s best picture, Lionheart. The contrast is pretty amazing between the two actually. In Death Warrant he plays a hero cop, the film mostly takes place in one location, there are really only two fight sequences to speak of and while the story isn’t anything original (Michael Crichton’s Coma is at least one other movie about organ trafficking that came out before this) it’s one you don’t come across very often. In Lionheart Van Damme is a French Foreign Legion deserter, the settings range from Africa to a ship bound for NY to the Big Apple itself to LA, there are a lot of fights (it’s an underground fight club movie after all) and the story had already been done many times before including twice previously by Van Damme himself.
Death Warrant (formerly known as Dusted by the way, neither title makes a lot of sense) is definitely nonessential to include in your action or Van Damme repertoire. It just doesn’t succeed at being a great mystery movie. The investigation unfolds too slowly to build enough suspense and then suddenly speeds up because we’re nearing the end of the picture and shit needs to be revealed and wrapped up. Van Damme feels out of place and the couple of fight scenes the filmmakers obviously shoehorned in when he signed on have nothing to do with the main plot. They easily could’ve been omitted and it wouldn’t have affected the story whatsoever.
Interestingly Van Damme would make another black market organ film with Pound of Flesh in 2015. I wanna say I liked that better but honestly I’m not sure.
Sorry Death Warrant but I’m gonna have to put a warrant out for your…arrest?