It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Ensemble action film "Skin Trade" hasn't been released theatrically in the United States yet, but it already feels dated. While star Tony Jaa is arguably the most compelling contemporary action star, his latest film feels like a throwback to the kind of action movies that were big when "Skin Trade" co-star Dolph Lundgren was huge (at 6'5'' and with a heavy Swiss-German accent, Lundgren never quite cut it as a square-jawed alpha-hero-type). The film hails from a decadent period of action cinema (i.e.: late '80s to early '90s) when every renegade cop had a private vendetta, a pet charity/social concern, and a few lousy quips in his back pocket.
This movie's makers haven't met a formula cliché that they don't like: two hot-headed law-men from opposite sides of the tracks (Jaa and Lundgren) pursue their respective agendas while trying to shut down an international human-trafficking ring run by evil Serb Viktor (Ron Perlman) and his four sons. "Skin Trade" is, in this light, a fundamentally absurd type of entertainment. But it is executed so well (for what it is): the film's lively action scenes are mostly well-choreographed, and the film's stars are treated, well, like stars. If you like your martial arts films to be action-packed, but also unironically simplistic, and thoughtlessly violent, then you will really enjoy "Skin Trade."
As is often the case with big, dumb action spectaculars, "Skin Trade" is best enjoyed if you take its most blissfully absurd qualities in stride with its most appreciably well-crafted assets. "Skin Trade" begins with a crass jolt: a girl sneaks away from her Cambodian home, and is soon abducted and forced to become a prostitute. We then meet the two men who are out to stop Viktor, and any other men who would take advantage of similarly defenseless teenagers: Tony (Jaa), a hot-headed undercover cop from Thailand; and Nick, a New Jersey cop whose family is killed in a tragic, but well-aimed rocket-launcher attack. Yes, you read that right: the inciting incident in "Skin Trade" is a bazooka assault that leads Nick to destroy anyone that gets in his quest for revenge.
Now, you might be wondering about the tone of a film that kicks off with such a loud (and literal) bang. "Skin Trade" isn't campy, and doesn't take time to wink at viewers. It's also not funny enough to be clever about its negligible dialogue and basic plot twists. Moreover, "Skin Trade" is the kind of movie where a main character (Nick) pushes through his grief by peeling off skimpy hospital bandages, and trudging home to dig up a case of guns he's hidden underneath his staircase. He then uses these guns to blow away a club-full of people. There are no consequences to Nick's actions because, according to the film's logic, Nick is justified. All of his targets are straw men predators, so the film's creators don't even pause when Nick executes a couple of bad guys with a big ol' shotgun.
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