I received a copy of In Hell in the mail this last week, as the 2003 direct-to-DVD Jean-Claude Van Damme is being re-released in a new limited edition. Why such a film deserves a re-release only a few years later is beyond me, but then again, it gave me the opportunity to watch this incredible, incredible film.
Okay, “incredible” might be a bit of an overstatement. In Hell isn’t as bad as you’d expect for a post-career peak Van Damme, but it’s surprisingly dull and uninteresting for the most part. The movie is about a guy who sentenced to life in an Eastern European prison for killing his wife’s murderer, and in this prison, the warden pits prisoners against one another. It sounds like the perfect opportunity for Van Damme to kick some serious ass.
Or, spend half his time sitting in a crap-filled prison cell trying to kill himself – and then training his body – while watching a moth fly around his head. Van Damme doesn’t get a real fight in until an hour in, and there are only one or two good sequences after that. In Hell, despite its title and premise, is much more of a character drama than one would expect; and not a very good one.
In Hell really isn’t that bad, but is it worth watching? No. It’s one of those many films that try to do too much and end up failing in every regard. Part of it wants to be a typical Van Damme action movie, but it lacks the amount of action, violence and gore to make it worth it. On the flip side, it also tries to be deeper than the typical prison fight, yet it just doesn’t have the script, actors or direction to pull it off. In other words, it’s an action movie without action, and a drama without drama.