Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) and Dolph Lundgren (Masters of the Universe) form a tag team that I had never conceived as possible. But someone out there had the foresight to make this duo happen, and, even better, set them up against the go-to Despicable Villain of Action Cinema: slimeball sex traders.
Hard-boiled New York detective Nick Cassidy (Lundgren) is set off on a brutally violent revenge quest following the murder of his family by a Serbian gangster (Ron Perlman, Hellboy). His swath of destruction takes him into Thailand where he runs into supercop Tony Vitayakul (Jaa). At first they’re bitter opponents, setting up the requisite fight scene, but when they realize they have something in common — namely, a joint loathing of sex slavers — they opt to set aside their differences and power through the impenetrable language barrier and get their murder on.
That’s all you’re looking at with Skin Trade, a movie I should have been tracking real-time as its went through its development stages, yet never quite connected with the trailers and promo footage I had seen. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to request it to review and I’m glad I did.
It’s not a new action classic. It may not even be a very good movie. But everyone involved pretty much goes for it, whether it’s Tony Jaa breaking out his signature special effects martial artistry or Ron Perlman butchering a Serbian accent or Dolph Lundgren Dolphing like no one’s business.
That confluence of B-movie sorcery yields something that’s serviceable — but not much more. I can appreciate everyone involved giving it the college try, as well as a well-deserved hard-R rating for wild and woolly violence, but a couple of things hold Skin Trade back from being anything more than adequate.
First, there aren’t any memorable moments. For a movie with this potential and with this action lineup, I’d expect more sizzle. Or at least an action set-piece that sticks in my brain longer than twelve minutes post-credits. In the crowded field of brawlers — and in a world where stuff like The Raid and John Wick exist — you’ve got to bring something new to the table, and Skin Trade just doesn’t (minus Tony Jaa’s awesomely bad one-liner delivery).
Second, and this ties directly into the above, is the misuse of Jaa. The guy is given some opportunities to display his chops and that’s fine enough, but if you’ve been on board the Jaa train since the beginning, you know what’s he’s capable of. His fight scenes are two choppy, too “Hollywood” edited. He’s at his best when a director just sets up and rolls, capturing his moves in continuous sequences. He doesn’t need quick, stylish edits.
So does this get a recommendation? Sure. It’s empty calories and fleeting, but Skin Trade delivers enough explosions and fisticuffs to merit a look by action enthusiasts.
Nice Blu-ray from Magnolia, who tends to do these overseas actioners well: a clean 2.39:1/1080p transfer and a loud DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track join a hefty selection of extras including featurettes on the action scenes, the making-of, and the director; an interview with Dolph Lundgren; Dolph commentary; and deleted scenes