‘SKIN TRADE’ IS A SLAVE TO TEDIUM

Skin Trade

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Pros: A couple of decent action moments

Cons: Mostly a wash considering the talent involved

It used to be that one could expect to get their money’s worth when they saw a flick that boasts the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Michael Jai White, Tony Jaa, and Ron Perlman; for good measure there is even a cameo by Peter Weller. Sadly, all of these elements end up being a wash thanks to some uninspired fight choreography and an almost complete lack of urgency in the film’s pacing.

Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa play Nick and Tony, law enforcers from opposite sides of the world running parallel investigations against notorious human trafficker, Victor Dragovic (Ron Perlman– looking like lethargy itself), who eventually find themselves partnered up after a rocky Martial Arts Meet Cute.

A Martial Arts Meet Cute, you say? Allow me to explain.

After successfully arresting Dragovic, Nick’s is left for dead in an ambush that killed his family. He is conveniently given information about what the authorities intend to do next, and he follows them to Thailand  to mete out his own form of justice.

Nick’s FBI buddy, Reed (Michael Jai White) has been working with Dragovic and frames Nick for the murder of Tony’s partner in order to distract Tony. I assume this will make Reed’s sabotaging the case easier. Spoiler: it’s not. In spite of all this, Nick is so single-minded in his focus that following him doesn’t hinder efforts to find Dragovic at all. In fact, once Nick gets to Thailand it’s all too easy for any and everyone to run into something or someone around every corner that is absolutely essential to moving the plot forward than dragging it out in a belabored fashion.

So eventually Nick and Tony meet in an old grain warehouse, Tony ready to duel to the death and Nick willing to show a little mercy to prove he isn’t the killer he’s been set-up to be. The fight has more close-ups and medium shots than I was expecting. It rarely works to display the grace of Jaa, but the fights do serve Lundgren better. The close-ups serve to underscore Lundgren’s intimidating size, making the fight seem all the more intense and claustrophobic.

But I’m really searching hard to find positives. The direction doesn’t do the actors any justice. Violence is not an art that is lost on Lundgren, Jaa, or White and yet no one really takes advantage of the assembled talent. The shootouts are rote and I can’t help but feel like the action is mostly designed to obscure the fact that the talent is getting old. To be perfectly honest, the few elbows to the head, cartwheel kicks, broken limbs, throat stabbings, and other acts of violence that aren’t as well displayed as they could be aren’t going to do much to disabuse anyone of that notion.

In the end, I’m much more comfortable taking an alternate, more cynical approach. That the makers didn’t have much more to their vision beyond “let’s get a,b, and c together for a movie and see if the damn thing makes itself.” I was more than ready to enjoy this film and what I got stuck with was a movie that seemed thoroughly disinterested in carving an identity for itself out of the gifts it was given.

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