Even for a Van Damme movie this one is particularly bad. I mean, Bloodsport was pretty silly, at least it made sense and didn’t resort to as many cliches.
Death Warrant is basically the story of a police detective (Van Damme) who goes undercover as a prisoner to solve a bunch of murders within a California prison. I’m pretty sure this was the exact plot at least 53 Law & Order episodes, so I was immediately interested. Unfortunately this story goes into some realms of implausibility that made it really ridiculous. The biggest example of this was that Van Damme is eventually outed as a cop by a maniac murderer who he thought he had killed a year earlier. Like, how exactly did Van Damme miss the fact that this guy was not dead? Did the paramedics called to the scene just neglect to tell him that he was still alive? Maybe he never called the paramedics, choosing instead to leave the guy’s body to rot, in which case how is he still working as a detective? Such a gaping plot hole.
The prison itself is so over-the-top “prisoney” that it’s basically a caricature of the system. Everyone is in a gang. Contraband is incredibly easy to come by. All prisoners sort themselves by race. The wardens are all corrupt. The politicians running the show think all prisoners are scum. There are casual comments about violence and rape. This movie basically ticks all the boxes on the “writing a prison movie” checklist.
At least the viewer is treated to the usual Van Damme “gun show.” His acting may not be the best, but he can throw kicks and punches like no other.
This is nothing more than a generic action flick from the 90s. Van Damme was coming off some hits like Bloodsport, Double Impact and Kick Boxer, so he was a recognised name and was placed as the headline act in this unoriginal movie that feels more like a double episode of CSI or Law & Order: SVU than it does a feature film. I only own this film because I wanted to get Double Impact, and the cheapest way to do that was to buy a double pack that also contained Death Warrant.
The film follows Louis Burke (Van Damme). He is a police officer who is asked to go undercover in a jail to uncover who is behind a series of inmate murders. Louis must earn respect from the prisoners and gain their trust so he can find out information about the murders and funnel it to the token female (Cynthia Gibb) of the picture. Eventually conjugal visits ensue. Louis eventually uncovers a conspiracy to kill certain prisoners and prison guards, which he tries to stop from inside the jail with the help of suddenly good prisoners.
I had a few problems with this film. Firstly, it turns out that the people behind the murders were the same ones who sent Van Damme into prison in the first place. Why would they start a covert operation that nobody could know about to stop crimes they themselves were committing? That can only end badly if he uncovers the truth. My second issue is the prisoners. Most of them seem like decent guys and are eager to help Van Damme. I don’t buy this. They’re in jail for a reason and don’t suddenly become good guys when they’ve always been bad. This jail seemed like it housed the worst kind of criminal, I’m not sure Van Damme is finding many good natured guys ready to help his cause in there.
This is an ordinary film that I wish I didn’t own. Van Damme has done much better than this generic action flick.