Van Damme hits his marks, but this modern actioner fails to live up to its ultimate roots.

Jean-Claude Van Damme has developed the kind of brand that allows him to experiment with his role choices. We Die Young is a clear example of this experimentation. Van Damme plays Daniel a mute, ex-marine with a drug addiction who suffers from painful bouts of PTSD.

Daniel remains an enigma throughout the entire film but manages to be one of its most compelling elements. The central focus however is Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) a young gang member who spends his time regretting his affiliations or trying to escape them.

We Die Young is available to stream on Amazon Prime here.

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The Van Damme Effect

Surprisingly, their interaction is much less than I expected. A bulk of the film features them apart nullifying any chance at a meaningful relationship. Van Damme spends most of his time brooding, fighting off flashbacks and walking with his girlfriend Anna (Joana Metrass), who has virtually nothing to do in this movie.

Despite his obvious limitations I enjoyed him in this film as well as The Bouncer, another recent effort. Rodriguez is palatable as Lucas but tends to feel very one-note and struggles to escape this frustratingly dull characterization.

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A Typical Action Movie

The movie also falls into countless macho clichés happily embracing stereotypes like the jealous second in command, Jester (Charlie MacGechan), the constant posturing and devil-may-care attitude gang members possess as they race into battle. A few elements such as an overzealous, young gang member border on comedic.

The gang’s leader Rincon (David Castaneda) struggles to escape these clichés but is undermined by the director’s unwavering interest in his countless facial tattoos. He does pull through with a few strong moments though suggesting there’s something more beneath the surface but anything more is never explored.

The movie’s action beats are staggeringly underwhelming and only add to its list of problems. An early chase scene is well done combining fluid camera movements and easy-to-follow geography. This pursuit is small but winds up feeling incredibly satisfying. Everything else heavily relies on handheld camera-work and choppy editing. Sometimes the action is easy to track but most of the time you get lost waiting for the frame to slow-down enough for you to catch up.

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Not JCVD’s Strongest Effort

Moreover, the story shoehorns in some pseudo-political elements. The action takes place in Washington DC in a neighborhood that is a mere 20-minute bike ride from the White House. A dubious claim at best. Additionally the movie squeezes in conversations about immigration issues but these instances never have anything concrete to say. This surface level inclusion feels as tacked on as most of the elements of this movie.

While an admirable diversion for Van Damme but like Daniel it never has anything interesting to say. We Die Young is available to stream on Amazon Prime here.

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