Runtime: 95 Mins
What To Expect: A movie that is good for a DTV, but average at best overall
After a long steak of not filming movies in the U.S., filming most of his movies in Eastern Europe but with a few stop offs at locations like Candada, this is Jean Claude Van Damme’s first movie to be shot on location in the U.S. since 1999. The Expendables 2 for example, was another Nu Boyana deal. Inferno was the last movie shot there and ironically it was set in the searing Mojave desert (the Inferno) in California. Swelter is also set in the Californian desert. It’s also a return to villainous territory for Van Damme, which a hint of anti-hero in there.
After a Vegas casino robbery ten years ago, Stillman’s (Van Damme) criminal gang loses their bag man, Bishop (Lennie James), who also loses his memory due to amnesia. He took $10,000,000 with him. Bishop settles in a small desert town, leading a completely different life but also unaware that he stashed the loot somewhere in the town. Eventually, Stillman and his crew track Bishop down and set out to retreive their money. This is not an action movie and shouldn’t be taken as such. As has been stated numerous times including in our interview with the director, it’s a modern western and slow burning thriller. The story and characters are what fuel the movie.
Swelter has some things going for it. The first thing you notice is that it’s not a typical Van Damme DTV movie. The setting really does give it a shot in the arm. The director makes use of the Californian desert, for instance there are plenty of deep focus shots with the actors in the foreground and the locale, in this instance the town (which is a character itself) deep in the background. And it’s nice to see this type of landscape used in an artistic way and not some 3D gimmick, as that type of thing is often used for these days. The film is also violent when it needs to be which compliments the gang’s demeanour and streak of black humor. They look cool by the way, especially Van Damme. It’s a good look for him.
The film is average though, it’s so-so. It’s let down the story not really gaining any traction throughout. After establishing the premise and the gang arrive in town, it starts to drag its feet and there’s quite a bit of melodrama. I think people looking at this as a Van Damme movie might especially feel this to be the case. His role is by no means a cameo but nor is it a full role. It’s a supporting role and a weak one at that, with Van Damme phoning it in. This is a return of the grouchy “my career is dead, fuck this shit” Van Damme. It doesn’t help that his character is written pretty thinly. The movie picks up towards the end, as things come to a head, but only after a truckload of half baked ideas. At just over 90 minutes, that could be down to quite a bit of missing material. The Blu Ray is shipped at seemingly half an hour shorter than the proposed two hour feature.
Swelter is strong for a DTV. But most will find unsatisfactory and a bit sleepy. Probably one for the hardcore Van Damme-ite.