3 1/2 StarsAt first glance 6 Bullets can be mistaken for a Taken knockoff, but it is actually more similar to Polanski’s Frantic, or The Professional. In the straight to DVD world, stealing from one movie is standard. Borrowing from three is outright, ingenuity. Jean Claude Van Damme is a former mercenary and ex-legionnaire, turned butcher living in Moldavia. When the daughter of Andrew Fayden, a former MMA champion goes missing, he turns to a man that specializes in retrieving kidnapped kids, who are unwillingly forced into sexual slavery. Sam Gaul (Van Damme) is hired by Fayden to recover the child from the clutches of an arms dealer readying the girl for a Sheik who collects blond haired American virgins. It falls onto Gaul to retrieve the kid from a closed down Russian prison, that the villains have converted into a fortress. Gaul is compelled to take the job for the monetary reward and the fact that, “It’s the right thing to do”.
The film opens with an onscreen passage that recounts the selling of a child for 6 Bullets, setting the (appropriate) melancholy tone for this action-thriller. Ernie Barbarash brings vivid direction to the sharp screenplay by writers Chad and Evan Law. The screenwriters have fashioned a compelling tale that is perhaps, too heavy of a subject to be used as fodder for an action thriller. Yet the film works, largely in part to director Ernie Barbarash, who keeps the picture moving at a blazing clip. After the mediocre effort Assassination Games, this is a return to form for both Barbarash and star, JCVD. Outside a mesmerizing opening sequence that is equal parts chilling and brutally violent, 6 Bullets settles into a more measured mood. There is not an abundance of action in the opening 30 minutes. Although Van Damme’s usage of inventive booby traps, mutilation and battery acid, is clever.
In his last few movies, Van Damme has been relegated to the costar in his own vehicles. Assassination Games matched him with Scott Adkins, and strangely both were rendered ineffective due to a lack of on screen chemistry and a bottom-feeding screenplay. Now we have the real screen emergence of Kristopher Van Varenberg, Van Damme’s real-life son. The younger man is a promising new actor who possesses an easy on-screen charm, and I really enjoyed seeing the two generations of Van Varenberg men playing opposite each other. Unfortunately Jean Claude’s daughter, Bianca Bree is glimpsed only fleetingly, while she is attractive, the jury is still out on whether she is a capable actor.
The Sam Gaul character is compelling enough to warrant a follow-up with this tortured character. I can envision this as a franchise-ready series. On the basis of this well produced effort I would gladly take more. 6 Bullets runs 110 minutes, yet never sags under the weight of its heavy story. I believe this effort ranks amongst In Hell, Wake of Death and JCVD as one of the best direct-to-DVD Van Damme films in the last 15 years.
Director: Ernie Barbarash
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Joe Flanigan, Kristopher Van Varenberg