Skin Trade (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham, and starring Ron Pearlman, Tony Jaa, Dolph Lundgren, Celina Jade, Michael Jai White, Petter Weller, Conan Stevens, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tasya Teles, Mike Dopud, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Aaron Brumfield, Chloe Babcock, Jenny Sandersson, Johnson Phan, Greg Bkk, Manel Soler, Leo Rano, Steven Elder, James Chalke, Gigi Velicitat and Michael G Selby
I do my best to go into every film that I review with an open mind. Although I am a cynic in my day-to-day life, when it comes to movies, I’m an unapologetic optimist. I secretly hope that every movie I watch will be the best movie I have ever seen. When I got the chance to screen a DTV film co-written by Dolph Lundgren, it took every ounce of my optimistic resolve to keep an open mind. DTV action movies are not supposed to be good and scripts co-written by Dolph Lundgren aren’t supposed to exist outside the world of slash fiction. Perhaps, in order to earn a producer credit, someone sacrificed their first born to the Hollywood Hills movie gods, because somehow, someway, Skin Trade is an enjoyable film.
Skin Trade gives viewers the impression that it is attempting to tell an earnest story about the scourge of human trafficking, albeit one with bazookas, martial arts and helicopter crashes. The film aims to offer a close look at the prevalence of human trafficking in our society, going as far as to throw up a sombre pre-credits title card listing human trafficking stats. Skin Trade’s noble message doesn’t leave much of an impact on the viewer because the story is a convoluted mess. Skin Traffic isn’t a film you watch for the message, it’s a film that you watch for the overall experience. And man, what an experience it is.
The film begins by introducing us to Nick Cassidy (Dolph Lundgren), who is immediately made out to be a comic book character; one whose super power is being cool. Nick casually strolls along while in pursuit of a fleet-footed perp, even taking the time to stop and sip a beer before cutting him off at the pass and busting him. Not to be outdone, Tony Jaa’s detective Tony Vitayakul dangles and then drops a pimp from a balcony before playing Robin Hood with his dirty money. After receiving a tip, Nick thwarts an illicit sex-worker exchange headed by Viktor Dragovic (Ron Pearlman), a wine drinking, Count Chocula accented, double-breasted suit wearing crime lord. After Viktor’s son Andre (Michael G Selby) is killed during Nick’s takedown, Viktor sends his minions (armed with a bazooka) to kill Nick’s family. Barely escaping death and burdened by the guilt of not saving his family, Nick goes on a killing spree, annihilating anyone standing between him and his “sweet-sweet” vengeance. This is the part of the film where you think that Nick and Tony somehow team up. They don’t. Not Really. For the better part of the movie, Tony hunts down the human wrath machine, aka Nick.
Skin Trade is an oddly structured movie. The promos may try to market Skin Trade as a team up movie, but Lundgren and Jaa often feel as though they are in entirely different films. The film begins with two separate plots, and even though they do eventually tie together, they don’t fold into the story in the way audience expects. Lundgren does most of the heavy lifting in terms of carrying the story although there is no shortage of mayhem for Nick to get into. Nick comes across as a slow, menacing brute, marauding through his own Taken-style action movie while Jaa zips around from scene to scene, running up lots of walls and planting elbow drops on top of bad guys skulls. It’s a good thing that Jaa helps elevate the movie with his martial arts skills, because his English is as broken as the ribs on the sex traffickers that he obliterates.
Skin Trade is being marketed as a straight up, old school action film and that is the one area of the film that truly hits its mark. Seeing each of the Skin Trade’s stars rip through the film with their unique action style never gets old. The brooding Nick tears through his enemies like a force of nature, an explosion of fists and guns descending upon bad guys like an avalanche while shrugging off bullet wounds as if they were bee stings. Jaa’s Tony, skitters around the screen like a water bug, fast and intense, annihilating those foolish enough to oppose him within the blink of an eye. When the two protagonists finally come together, it’s a magical thing. I won’t spoil the fight, but before it happens there is an extended chase scene that is as innovative and well choreographed as anything that you would see in a big budget Bourne film.
Intentionally or unintentionally, Skin Trade really ratchets up the camp factor. The good guys aren’t very good and the bad guys are the worst human beings who ever existed in the history of the universe, period. The villains in Skin Trade engage in “douchey” behaviour such as wearing sunglasses inside, binging on cocaine as if it were milk about to expire, wearing red velvet blazers and making statements like “bring out the merchandise,” when the merchandise is a human woman. Skin Trade offers countless reasons to stand up and applaud every time a lowlife meets his violent demise.
Skin Trade indignantly hangs in the rarefied air between a “good bad movie” and a legitimately good movie. I like to refer to movies in this tweener category as “better than they have any right to be.” With its low budget, high-school play quality acting and a script less coherent than a game of broken telephone, Skin Traffic is somehow better than the sum of its parts. We watch movies to be entertained, and Skin Trade is bursting at the seams with entertainment value, as long as you consider gunfights and moped chases a worthy investment of your time. If you made it this far into the review, then I suspect that Skin Trade is right up your alley.
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