Directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham. Produced by Craig Baumgarten, Dolph Lundgren, and Mike Selby. Written by Dolph Lundgren, Gabriel Dowrick, and Steven Elder. Release date: May 8, 2015.
Skin Trade feels like a film right out of 1991, which makes sense given that it stars and was written and produced by Dolph Lundgren, who saw his greatest success as an actor – if you can even call what he did during that period “acting” – during that time. The action is dumb and poorly shot, it’s so on-the-nose that nobody would mistake it for being subtle, and it’s all too silly to take seriously, even though it really, really wants you to do exactly that.
Lundgren stars as Nick Cassidy, a New Jersey detective who is the lead investigator in a human trafficking operation led by Viktor Dragovic (Ron Perlman). Somewhere around a third into the film, his wife and daughter are presumably killed, and his quest becomes even more personal. He’s joined – and sometimes hindered – by a Thai detective, Tony (Tony Jaa), who is initially tasked with arresting Cassidy, before learning that the real bad guy is Dragovic. Do you really need any more details to figure out exactly how this plays out, beat for beat? I certainly didn’t. This is the type of plot that direct-to-video movies are carved from with great regularity, except now we can stream them on-demand while they get a simultaneous and tiny theatrical release.
Here’s something you may not know: Human trafficking is bad. Oh, you did know that? Well, if you didn’t, you sure will by the time that Skin Trade concludes. Yes, it’s nice for dumb action movies to have a point, but when it’s this simple and one-sided, it’s hardly something that needs hammering home. Taken tackled similar subject matter, except more subtly – and I don’t know if anyone is going to argue that it was a particularly subtle movie.
Taken did, however, have at least somewhat competent action scenes, something that Skin Trade cannot claim. Skin Trade is brought to us by Ekachai Uekrongtham, whose drama about Singapore’s red-light district, Pleasure Factory, might have made him a good choice for a movie about human trafficking. The problem is that he’s not an action director, and proves that he has a lot to learn if he’s going to become one. The editing is choppy, any fight choreography that doesn’t involve Tony Jaa is poor, the cinematography isn’t anything special, and so much of it takes place in the dark in an attempt to hide these deficiencies – which just further makes it hard to see what’s going on and who’s doing what to whom.
It would’ve been a poor entry into Dolph Lundgren’s canon back in the mid-1990s, and being a 2015 release just makes it feel outdated and sad.
The Tony Jaa action scenes, meanwhile, are moderately effective simply because it’s Tony Jaa doing them. If you’ve seen any of his earlier work – I’ll include his brief scenes in Furious Seven in that category, but I’m more thinking of Ong-Bak – then you know he’s great when it comes to fight scenes. He’s so physically fit and capable of doing extraordinary stunts that simply watching him is a joy. If there’s a point at which Skin Trade actually gets almost entertaining, it’s during his fight scenes.
Unfortunately, to get to his action scenes, we have to watch him try to act, which is an awkward and painful experience for everyone involved. He never looks comfortable when he’s not throwing punches, and you can feel that coming through the screen every time he tries to deliver a line of dialogue or show off more than a singular facial expression. Dolph Lundgren was never known as a good actor, and he doesn’t do anything to dispel that notion here, delivering a one-note performance, with that one note consisting of lots of grunting and kicks. Ron Perlman fairs little better, but gets to use a silly accent, so at least he’s good for a laugh.
Skin Trade is the most mediocre and generic type of bad action movie. It doesn’t contain anything good or bad enough to get excited about, and instead feels like a slog to sit through. It would’ve been a poor entry into Dolph Lundgren’s canon back in the mid-1990s, and being a 2015 release just makes it feel outdated and sad. It’s always disappointing to see a passion project not wind up worth watching, but that’s exactly what Skin Trade is.
Bottom Line: Generic, pointless, and consisting mostly of poor action scenes, Skin Trade deserved to go directly to home video.
Recommendation: Unless you’re a time traveler from 1991 and for some reason want to see what a present-day Dolph Lundgren actioner looks like, you have no reason to see Skin Trade.[rating=1.5]