Credit: Saban Films
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Genre Views

Darkness of Man — James Cullen Bressack

May 24, 2024

Jean-Claude Van Damme, it’s been a minute, buddy. Van Damme’s last starring vehicle, the not-particularly-exciting but still charming The Last Mercenary, mostly survived on JCVD’s surprising comedic skills. When he’s invested and funny, that tends to smooth over a lot of rough spots. Now he’s back with the unfortunately generic and deeply morose Darkness of Man, a boilerplate crime drama that mostly sees him moping around L.A. through various dimly lit streets, nightclubs, and empty warehouses.

Here he’s Russell Hatch, former Interpol agent. In an opening flashback, we learn that he’s fallen in love with an informant, Esther (Chika Kanemoto). Sure enough, the big bust goes wrong, and Esther is killed, having made Russell promise to take care of her son, Jayden (Emerson Min). Back to the present, and Russell is an alcoholic sad sack while Jayden is falling into trouble with his uncle (Peter Jae), who’s a Korean gangster currently embroiled in a beef with some unsavory Russians (there are never any savory Russians in a movie like this). Cue hijinx.

As helmed by DTV veteran James Cullen Bressack (though hardly of any good DTV stuff), this story — co-devised by Van Damme — could not be any more frictionless. It’s all shot in the dark, the few action beats are generally designed to hide the fact that our star is getting on in years, and the monotony is only broken up by the usual scenes of criminals posturing at each other. Worse, there are endless scenes of Van Damme, alone, while he drones on in dopey, gloomy voice over, including lines like “My reflection is a whisper of who I was, a distant memory, and echo in the wind.” It’s insufferable. And when you’re not straining to unroll your eyes, make sure to look out for inexplicable cameos from Cynthia Rothrock and Shannen Doherty (who turns up to lecture JCVD about smoking).

Van Damme is a decent actor when he wants to be, and it’s clear that he thinks he’s stretching his emotional and spiritual muscles here. In movies like The Bouncer and even more lighthearted stuff like The Last Mercenary, he has indeed displayed a really effective balance of self-awareness and legitimate gravitas. But Darkness of Man simply doesn’t offer substantive enough material to support much of anything from JCVD, despite his best efforts. The film lands as little more than a somber, self-serious shrug in the DTV sphere.

DIRECTOR: James Cullen Bressack;  CAST: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kristanna Loken, Emerson Min, Spencer Breslin;  DISTRIBUTOR: Saban Films;  IN THEATERS: May 21;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 48 min.