HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Skin Trade
HTS Overall Score:75
It’s certainly been a revival of sorts these last few years for aging action stars. Well, Dolph has been churning out DTV action movies for the better part of 15 years after he fell from the theatrical lime light, but many of them have been REALLY poorly made, especially his Canadian produced ones. However, with the popularity of “The Expendables”, all of the good old days actors are getting noticed. I loved Dolph Lundgren in “The Expendables” series, as he was almost the best part of the films. You could tell he was so appreciative of getting solid work again that he put a lot of heart into it. As a result he’s been getting better and better roles, even though these films are still in the DTV environment. However, after watching “Skin Trade”, I can definitely see that the notoriety paid off, as this was one of the better produced and better funded DTV flicks that I’ve seen in a while. The effects are better, the acting is certainly better, and even though it doesn’t have the choreography of a $100 million blockbuster, the action is certainly a lot of fun.
As you can tell from the title, “Skin Trade” deals with the seedy world of human trafficking from several angles. In storyland, the most powerful human trafficking organization is run by ex-Serbian national family headed by Vicktor Dragovic (Ron Perlman) and his 4 sons. After New Jersey Police Officer Nick Cassidy (Dolph Lundgren) takes out Viktor’s youngest son, things turn nasty real quick. The Dragovic clan unleashes their full power against the poor officer, killing his wife and daughter as compensation for the loss of their own. Waking up in a rage at what happens, Nick decides that it’s time to take matters into his own hands. With Viktor and crew having fled the U.S. to Cambodia, the livid peace officer decides that peace is the last thing that the criminal will ever experience.
Heading over to the East, Nick is hunted by FBI agent Reed (Michael Jai White), who combines forces with Thai special agent Tony Vitayakul, who is working his own case against the traffickers of women. Claiming that Nick Cassidy is on a homicidal rage, Reed and Tony try and hunt down the ticked off cop, only to find out that there is a more than a little bit of backstabbing going on inside the U.S. Corp of agents. Now Nick and Tony have to work together, despite their differences to wipe out this scumbag before he can do any more damage to another human being.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=52354[/img]The DTV world is rife with action movies, especially ones involving Dolph Lundgren, Stephen Seagal, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jean Claude Van Damme or a dozen other over the hill actors, but for some reason I’ve always had a good time watch Dolph in his films. Many of the times he has a strong hand in writing and producing his own films, and the guy certainly knows to play to his strengths. The action here isn’t masterful, but it’s well done and certainly worth of someone’s time who knows action. The inclusion of Tony Jaa was a bit surprising, but it probably was inevitable that Tony start making a bigger splash in U.S. produced movies. After his stint with “Furious 7” it was only a matter of time. Dolph is certainly aging, and nowhere as fast as the incredibly skilled Tony Jaa, but the fights they utilize him in with Dolph are well shot, and much more brutal and gritty, with Dolph holding his own, but definitely taking a realistic beating from the younger man. Michael Jai White is simply and incredible human specimen, as I don’t thing the guy can actually age. Just watching him move is like watching a piece of fine art, with muscle control that even Jean Claude Van Damme or Scott Adkins can only aspire to. I remember watching him 16 years ago in “Universal Soldier: The Return” and I was awestruck by the fine motor control and skill with which he could move his body, and said 16 years later he can STILL move just as fast. I’ve been doing martial arts for almost 20 years and have watched more kung fu and martial arts films than you could possibly imagine and Michael Jai White has always stood at the top of my list for talented martial artists (although not the greatest actor).
The plotline is a bit gritty and darker than the usual, but that is kind of a side effect of a film dealing with human trafficking. “Skin Trade” is no “Taken”, but it takes a serious look at the evils of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into a life of slavery and debauchery. Holding no prisoners, they peel back the nasty face of that industry and punch it square in the chin (quite literally at some points). Even though the horror of the “skin trade” is at the forefront of the director’s gaze, he uses every bit of screen time available to pack in more action than I would have guessed. The lineup of stars is actually quite impressive and he keeps the film from devolving into a plethora of quick cuts that take away from all the awesome movies going on. Instead of a blur of barely perceived action we get to see some cool fight scenes where you can ACTUALLY see the people hitting their opponents or pulling off an exceptional flashy move. Something that has been severely lacking in modern action movies (and something I’ve griped about nonstop for the last 10 years).
Even though the martial artists have the bulk of the screen time we have some pretty solid cameos and supporting characters throughout the film. Peter Weller shows up as Nick Cassidy’s boss for a few scenes, and does his grim and gritty “Robocop” character, and Ron Perlman actually doesn’t ham it up with his portrayal of Viktor Dragovic. Even Mike Dupod makes a small appearance as one of Viktor’s sons. “Skin Trade” isn’t a magical return to theatrical movies for Dolph Lundgren, but it is a BIG step up over his normal work and definitely a help to get Tony Jaa back in the spotlight after the debacle that was “The Protector 2”.
Rated R for strong violence throughout, disturbing sexual content, nudity, drug use and language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=52362[/img]Shot digitally, “Skin Trade” looks like most modern digital films, all shiny, smooth and very pretty. Intentionally shot with an ever so slightly drained color palette, the image has a big more touches of grey and earthy brown than most of its ilk. Fine detail is still strong, with plenty of pop and pizazz the picture. While it certainly is not the highest budgeted film out there (it IS direct to video), but it certainly commands a higher looking premium that most other DTV films out there. Black levels are good with only a few moments of crush here and there, and I didn’t notice any digital compression issues or intentional tampering to the image. One of the better looking DTV films out there and certainly earns its stripes.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=52370[/img]One thing I love about action movies is an aggressive audio track, and “Skin Trade” certainly aims to please in that department. Gunfire, fists and kicks all land with earth shaking power, with a heavy duty blast of LFE to add a bit of extra weight. The surrounds are constantly in motion, with gunfire crackling all around, or the screech of tires during a motorcycle chase. Glass exploding causes you to jump and more than a few times I was looking over my shoulder because of some pinpoint directional queues. The ONLY thing that drags this down from a 4.5 audio score was the fact that the dialog at the beginning of the film had a definite hollow “echoey” sound to it. After the first 30 minutes it seemed to go away, but it was enough for me to really notice it at the beginning, as it made the vocals sound rather “thin” as a result.
• Behind The Action: Fighting You Can Believe
• Making of Skin Trade
• A Look At Director Ekachai Uekrongtham
• Commentary With Dolph Lundgren
• Interview With Dolph Lundgren
• Deleted Sceness
Big dumb action movies with Dolph Lundgren are a personal weakness of mine, and while I can’t say that “Skin Trade” is a modern action masterpiece, it still has all the ingredients to have a good popcorn night and watch Tony Jaa, Dolph and Michael Jai White beat the snot out of each other. It’s a fully capable action thriller, and does better than thousands of other mindless action films that come out year after year, so the guilty pleasure part of me had a blast with it. Audio and video are excellent, and I was REALLY surprised to see a healthy line up of extras on the disc. Definitely worth checking out if you love chop socky action movies with aging action stars from your youth.
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Ron Perlman
Directed by: Ekachai Uekrongtham
Written by: Gabriel Dowrick, Steven Elder
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Runtime: 96 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 25th 2015
Buy Skin Trade On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Recommended as a fun rental
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