Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Son in Law

“Yep, you’ve a Pauly Shore in the woodwork,” says the man in the overalls. Perplexed by this I offer an eloquent reply, “huh?” “Ya see here,” he goes on, pointing to a crack in the doorframe, “it probably got in through there, then spread to your dining room and what have you.” His reply is far too concise, I need time to fathom this revelation, damn him and his vocational qualifications. You’re forced to endure night after night of mysterious spectral nonsense, having your life shit upon by the most absurd of disruptions, and this guy waltzes in and diagnoses the situation within barely a second. Where’s the ectoplasm detectors, eh? Why am I not lathered up in fifty feet of radiation by now? How come my thoughts aren’t being drowned out by a deluge of electronic beats and ambient clacks? This fucker’ll spare no effort to show off his clever penchant for identifying problems in an instant, but what about my malady? I ought to eject him out to fuck this very second.

“Can’t you do something about it?” I query. “Sadly no,” his lumberjack arms rubbing the gruff exterior of his swollen gut, “not much I can do, nor anyone for that matter, once you got a Pauly Shore you’re stuck with it till boredom hits and it fucks off.”


You don’t know you’re living with a Pauly Shore until it’s too late, until its wedged its way into your life like cancer of the colon caught too late to be treated; the only option is to try and accommodate both it and you, it might be a displeasing arrangement but is unalterable regardless.

It started with mysterious hollers in the night, roaring sonic pollution engulfing the entire house, scraping away ply after ply of lino luxury, melting the carpet with warlike disregard. This nocturnal nuisance timetabled itself into a rhythm more reliable than even the most precise of atomic clocks. The minute-hand’s penetration of two o’clock’s sovereign territory was all the catalyst needed for the hullabaloo to erupt. Muffled bellows gave way to an ascending shrill, subsequently usurped by a drone that seemed to be gurgling words, a fluctuating pitch that reverberated from one room to another. This reign of auditory terrorism would keep me hostage all night, only fading away when the sun saw fit to tilt its rays back my direction.

As you’d imagine, I was deeply upset by this lack of slumber and simultaneously mystified by the phenomenon. My attempt the next morning to call a pal for a two-way exchange of grievance and consolation ended in frustration as a maniac bout of yodelling broke out mid-conversation, a rabid discourse that became embedded in the phone line. Each time I’d reach for the receiver, say to beckon the purveyors of pizza goodness to my abode, I’d be met with deranged ululations spat in my ear. The phone was not the only household application struck with this mystifying disease. My attempt to boil the kettle only resulted in cloudy tufts of curlicues amassing near the spout, becoming darker and more embodied with each exertion of the heating mechanism. The shower strained with an unholy shriek when I threw it into operation, falsetto vowels unravelling from its head. Most alarming was my toaster. Hunger threatening my vulnerable organs, I whacked a couple of slices of bread into the contraption, desperately eager for sustenance. To my shock the toast emerged from its stasis bearing an image on its body, some kind of portrait branded onto its belly. It was a face, smirking with demented lack of self-consciousness.

Moreover, I would come home after a hard day’s graft to find the TV flicked on, some dreary splodge of cinema sutured to its screen. Unable to discard this jumble of audiovisual fizz from my line of sight, I would be forced to attend its sermon, to glance upon whatever narrative flux was caressing the cathode-ray. Inevitably it’d be a torturous slab of early-90s comedy, defecated out tie-dye rectums and stencilled into the public arena. As much as I wished to depart its hallucinatory spell, the screams of discord were insurmountable, racing into chorus as soon as I’d motion towards the dial.


Might I have to sell this infernal house, cursed with such an apparition as it is? Maybe I’ll get lucky and be whisked off to some phosphorescent limbo hiding behind the linen closet, or wake up to find myself being eaten alive by a porpoise. I could always burn the house down and live in the rumble, might even get some thick cheques from the insurance crew. This is what I get for buying off a man wearing a bow-tie, I knew the second I saw it the whole damn excursion was a bad idea. Stay in the house, I told myself, look at this fool, ain’t a drip of irony ever touched his lips. But no, I had to be a pawn to his sweet talking ways, the ruby words oozing deep from within his throat, lassoing me with not even so much as a struggle.

Now that I think about it, this Shore character, where I have I seen him recently? Why, none other than gracing my television screen every five minutes, that swine! Yes, during those many evenings spent shrivelling in the glow of the filmic lights, I was doing nothing more than having my eyes pay tribute to Pauly Shore, incessantly, by viewing each and every one of his films. I must have been so lethargic due to the furious assault on my dull existence, so positively comatose, that I didn’t even notice the perverse thread permeating each of these narratives. So that’s it then, a Pauly Shore vehicle, each and every one of them. Truly I’ve identified the most odious and upsetting of all the symptoms associated with this bizarre domestic affliction.

Submerging my mind in the past, I’m dealt a jolly medley of imagery. Look, up there, a dome, enmeshed in the stratosphere, little figures swirling around the interior, a Baldwin of some sort writhing next to the Shore. The image flips past, like a photograph sucked into a jet engine. Next, that guy from George of Jungle is rollicking with Samwise Gamgee, unfolding in the corner is Shore, yielding gargantuan wafts of canonical oratory. A square panel featuring lady justice being sleazed upon by Shore slides into view, but is then knocked out by another panel, this one featuring a Scud missile being sleazed upon by Shore.

Fading into sight is another chunk of Shore refuse, purpled by a long sentence in the gulag and bitter from the flames of persecution. Assuming a form less opaque than the others, the drifting memory acts as a bridge to a land of critical recollection. With Pauly Shore’s flamboyant wraith churning distorted arias in the background, this vast pictorial essence suffocates all the senses.

It is a testament to the distracting strength of being infested with a Pauly Shore that I hadn’t noticed the curious affinity between my current situation and the one dealt with by Perry White in this film. But hang on, back up, what is this flick we’re concerned with?

Well, it goes by the name of Son in Law and sprang forth from the production womb back in 1993.

Good, but what’s it about? Who is this son? Who is this law?

What it’s about is a young girl from the Midwest who heads to Los Angeles for some schooling. Here her country virtues are corrupted by a run-in with Crawl, played by Pauly Shore. He’s a wild student with swordfish for elbows who likes nothing more than sleeping upside down. She returns to the family farm for Thanksgiving replete with a Shore under her arm. Then frolics ensue as Shore must penetrate the layers of farm-life labouring in order to gain acceptance by the cud-chewing denizens of the prairie.

The son is Shore, who must pretend to be the young lady’s fiancé so as to ward off the advances of Jimmy Jock Eerie Grin.

As for the law…Stallone is the law, last I heard.

Anyway, the question is where is the fish?

The fish, by fuck, is out of water, that’s where.

Shore must traverse a set of obstacles on his way to being embraced by the conservative values of his adopted family, from feeling his way around a few udders to giving a turkey a heart attack, from appropriating the attire of a cowpoke to encountering a tattooist Flea. He must rub grit into the eyes of the Evil Jock while also contending with nascent emotions in relation to his female buddy. It’s a tough life being a Shore, but eventually Perry White, that kid who was a vampire in the X-Files and company come round to seeing things the Shore-way. Even Kelly from Saved by the Bell gets touched by the voluptuous magic echoed in Shore’s clotted essence. This all begs the question, what is it the film expresses? What’s the message?

Clearly, the film is one big manifesto for the advocates of Shoreification. Not unlike its semantic cousin Stallonification, the word connotes a particular effect of being physically close to its namesake, wherein all become subsumed by the black hole that is Pauly Shore. Witness the girl’s transformation from pastoral naivety to beach voyeurism and big hair. The process whereupon she becomes thoroughly Shoreified culminates in her acquisition of speech patterns previously only ever propagated by Shore himself. So, like the unassuming German drudge manipulated by Goebbels, she becomes infused with a virulent and fatal posturing that is said to be twice as potent as Ebola. Yet she is not the only victim to this stylistic onslaught, all her innocent family are raped by this hazardous presence, their genuine sense of self ripped asunder and swallowed up by Shore, assimilated like that thing that was chasing Kurt Russell. Even Perry White succumbs to Shore’s tentacles of destruction, squealing the song of the weasel upon consummation.

It’s a sad scenario to observe, full of pain and misery, a Night and Fog for the slacker generation. However, if merits are forthcoming, they would have to state that the film is an unmitigated warning against the risks of inviting Pauly Shore into your residence. Your list might already inventory vampires and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but please do inscribe the words ‘Pauly Shore’ beside them, you’ll thank me later.

And with that I return to my own predicament, strangely unnerved by the conclusions reached above, an analysis hopefully not prophetic, otherwise my close proximity to the astral planes of Shore may open the gateway to a world I wish not to enter, a world of denim shorts, bouncy hair and totalitarian friendships. Promise me, dear reader, if I begin to exhibit the turgid mannerisms and degenerate mentality of Pauly Shore in the near future, please liberate me from this life.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Ever wonder what type of chair Vladimir Nabokov sat on when he carefully penned the introduction to Bend Sinister, a precocious retort exclaiming, in effect, Freudians fuck off? How about what Simone de Beauvoir stuffed her face with come lunch time during the mammoth writing task that was The Second Sex? How many jars of whiskey surrounded Charles Bukowski as he spat out the prose that was to make up Post Office? These are questions lacking an answer; a patchwork of texts that conceals the author, throwing up a wall from which we can only resort to sheer conjecture as to precisely what Woody Allen had in his coffee the day he thought up the story about the hookers paid for their ability to discuss Milton (‘The Whore of Mensa’). These are disembodied reams of words, cut off from the wordsmith who suffered their conception, yet they somehow remain inextricably linked to that mind of origin.

Who were these men and women that were to express with such sublime triumph their talents for merging language and the floating images of consciousness? Despite the titbits of inference afforded us, the convoluted mediation process hinders any clear-sighted gaze we’d wish to possess; the question is: where is the window?

Zizek! is one such window. This documentary, produced in 2005, takes on the task of following its eponymous subject, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, as he treks from one teeming mass of hungry young leftists to another, visiting university campuses all over the globe, forever articulating in suitably spectacular fashion all the tenets of Lacanian psychoanalysis, a complex web of obtuse terminology and esoteric concepts read through as many multifarious and multifaceted cultural objects as possible. Lobbed up on stage, serrated by the roar of the baying crowd, Zizek can orate for hours on the exact dimensions of ideology, interweaving his theoretical delineation with accessible examples ranging from Hitchcock to chocolate laxatives. Never shying away from inserting the odd obscenity, or the old Stalinist joke, or a witty rebuttal to some insolent query, he exudes confidence and erudition on stage, connecting with fresh-faced students high on Foucault by dissecting the culture of the quotidian, shirking ivory tower banalities by singing in a key comprehendible to those perhaps yet unaccustomed with Schelling.

But we all know this. Zizek’s competence in relaying his rereading of Hegel, his manic rescue of the German philosopher from the bowels of Idealism’s dark netherworlds, this comes across in the myriad of lecture videos swimming ashore on Youtube every week. His analysis of the Marx Brothers in terms of Freud’s id/ego/superego triad and such like, wasn’t this all presented with subtle ingenuity in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema? It was indeed. So, where’s the attraction of this film?

Quite clearly, what interests us here are the sequences that punctuate the engagements of public speaking. The film truly comes alive for the first time during a visit to Zizek’s residence, wherein he shows us his preference for storing clothes in the cabinets gracing the walls of his kitchen, commenting enthusiastically about this arrangement, everything found in one small corner. These personal little unveilings are the warm heart of the film, witness Zizek as he explains to filmmaker Astra Taylor the portrait of Stalin that greets all visitors to his office, or his hyperactive exuberance in purchasing DVDs from a store in New York, or his jocular reproach to the congress of vegetarians constituting the film crew as he cries out for a meat-fuelled lunch. The particular highlight of the film has Zizek interacting with his infant son, discussing the charade of going to McDonalds and giving us an in-depth analysis of the little guy’s vast toy collection, with pater familias noting some of his favourite plastic figures and the wonderful feminist gesture signified by the son’s decision to place two female figures on the summit of a building. The scene is topped off by a hilarious statement from Zizek, when the infant becomes enraptured by the flickers of the TV, “oh look, he’s narcissistically amused.” Delivered with perfect timing and so indicative of a mind whose cogs never slow down for a second.

Textual quotes line the fissures opened up by one scene segueing into another. Rather than this being intrusive, or a dull and crippling tarnishing of the whole, these breakages highlight relevant kernels of Zizek’s philosophy, from relevant books, and are interpolated in such a way as to avoid ruining the pace of the film. This method of on-screen text and selective graphic embellishment is a contrast to the film’s precursor, Derrida – another film concerned with the everyday manoeuvres of a philosopher, this time the father of Deconstruction, Jacques Derrida. Packed with plenty of joviality from seeing the author of such headache-inducing tomes as Writing & Difference sitting down to eat a cracker, it was nevertheless mired slightly by interludes of spoken excerpts set to a strangely unsettling soundtrack. Thankfully, Zizek! skips right past this obstacle.

It’s incredibly interesting observing how such a brilliant mind goes about the dreary practice of everyday living, it allows us a fascinating peek into the world of a man whose words and dynamic on-stage persona were all we had held previously. Naturally, there’s a touch of the cult of personality in all this, something Zizek himself speaks out about in the film, casting mighty scornful gazes at the chance of someone perceiving him as anything other than “a monster.” Regardless, there appears an innate desire to reach out to the objectified other, as idealised as it may be, we want to clear away those barriers and see the frail organism that lies beyond, an entity more real than the slew of words that masks it.

Just today, in the Observer’s ‘Food Monthly’ supplement, there dwelled a fine piece of captivating journalistic inquiry detailing the contents of Steven Seagal’s shopping basket. Not only did we learn of his fondness for scotch whiskey, but he also, like a good pedagogue, taught us that he consumes Tibetan barley every morning, ending on the fundamental truth that “I always try and eat healthy but I’m kind of human so I do have my weaknesses.” How this “kind of human” compares to Zizek’s declaration that he is a monster is best left, for now, to another inquiry.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Jeff Fahey Review: Absolute Zero

Despite his high standing in the hierarchies of cinema – mighty paragon of the glistening visual arts lest we forget – Jeff Fahey nevertheless remains incessantly trapped in a stalled shell of persistent attack, subject to a wealth of opposition from each and every direction. Whether it’s the pangs of jealousy, the screams of contrariness, or the judders of repressed sexual desire, Fahey’s foes are numerous and take many forms. From the naysayers who misconstrued his phenomenological critique of value in Darkman III: Die Darkman Die, to those weighty consonants that have populated hurtful review after hurtful review, the assailing forces laugh at suggestions of détente, taking the moment’s quiet for an additional underhand jab at Fahey’s illustrious mane of perfection.

Paramount to the continuing sustainability of these attacks is the capacity to evolve, forever assuming new guises to muddle the danger senses of Fahey’s corona blue. It’s due to this dynamic that Absolute Zero sees Fahey’s nemesis don a garment of massive proportions, for in this film the man sporting the blonde chords of virtue atop his head must engage in combat with, and defend mankind against, the blustery retchings of the Earth’s climate.

Like a string section swelling but not yet high enough in the mix to be audible, Fahey’s presence in Absolute Zero is initially concealed whilst an opening scene unravels in the vicinity of the screen. The dish we are served features a coterie of scientists rummaging around that vast ice pop we call Antarctica. Inebriated by the array of instrumentation that graces the walls of their research hut, the crew are in high spirits. But when the land on which they reside begins to fall into infinity, ruining a perfectly good barbeque, conclusions are reached approaching the negative.

What does one do in this situation, underpaid researchers spooked by the possibility that next time they venture outside they’ll end up plummeting to depths not seen since Haim and Feldman’s last outing? Well, you throw in a Fahey, of course. And throw him in they do. Dropped by a helicopter in hasty retreat, Fahey meets an old buddy and they set to work exploring a subterranean cave newly-found nearby. Conditions worsen and moods receive a blow of melancholy when a raging storm rolls into camp midway through the reconnaissance. Death befalls all except Fahey, who is left pondering cave scribbles deep below the surface, ancient scribbles that may prove to hold the key to explaining the climatological affliction set to envelope the planet.

So, Fahey returns from his icy Antarctic grotto to the breezy, sun-coated beaches of Miami. How he returned from imprisonment underneath the cataclysmic weather spasms is never explained, we can only infer that he bolted through the Earth’s crust, propelling himself like a bullet on an underground transcontinental trip.

Alas, the dodgy weather doesn’t play by the rules. Rather than staying an isolated event occurring considerable miles away from anything, it sees fit to impose itself on the sort of topographies infested by millions of scampering little mammals. As glaciers replace rich playboys in Miami’s waterfront, Fahey takes the reins of responsibility and begins a hazardous gallop to discover the precise scientific terms to ascribe to this fleet of snowy madness. And maybe, just maybe, he will come through and save the entire city from catastrophe, protecting every one of its citizens and shielding the infrastructure under one almighty wing of security.

Or maybe he won’t. Perhaps he was fed-up with perpetual traffic jams, or the smog choking his lungs every afternoon, because the worst does indeed happen. Suffice it to say, if Fahey allowed Miami to freeze, killing all who had not eloped by that point, then it was probably a beneficial thing for the city – anyway, we all know how popular ski resorts are in this day and age. However, in the end, Fahey does become embroiled in a race against time, regardless of its scope.

By a stroke of luck, and an undoubted eternity spent in grad school, Fahey ascertains that a temperature of absolute zero will rain down upon Miami, transforming the beaches into freezers and having a detrimental effect on next year’s spring break. Fahey calculates the time until this disaster down to the very microsecond, gifting himself a race against the clock to gather up his accomplices and pack him and them into his special absolute zero room that will shelter them from the chills outside.

Joining Fahey on this wild excursion is erstwhile Baywatch object Erika Eleniak, still dizzy from her encounter with Steven Seagal in Under Siege. Looked at closely, Eleniak’s sub-Fahey eyes betray her immanent preoccupation with Seagal’s knife histrionics and her disillusionment at being passed over with regard the sequel. Here she plays not Fahey’s wife as the DVD description states, but a former flame now married to an old pal of Fahey’s. The name of this pal? Why, it’s none other than Jeff. How are we to interpret this odd coincidence? Well, first of all, there are no coincidences where Fahey is concerned – all comes into being via his divine will, with no space for Chance to mosh its way into the fermentation. No, the answer lies with Fahey’s immutable essence. I submit to you, good reader, that Fahey’s quintessence is of such potency that his reality spills over into the film, thus imprinting his wholesome forename on to the frame of one of his co-stars. Unfortunately, this other-Jeff gets killed by a flying palm tree halfway through the film, bringing an end to a peculiar refraction of Fahey that is not without precedent (cf. Corpses).

With charity stomped into the stitches of his fleece, Fahey takes on two young apprentices for this filmic endeavour. A.J, a rather cute science major, provides a great function by doing the minor technical tasks that are but a besmirchment on Fahey’s ‘to do’ list. Philip, a strip joint enthusiast, radiates the requisite stupidity to allow for long disclosures about what all these chemistry symbols might signify in the right lighting. Together they form a smooth pavement of comic relief for Fahey walk on, assuaging excessive tensions as the group traverses a five-inch thick ledge in subfreezing temperatures. They also act as a welcome counterpart to the token Evil Corporate Guy, a man who cares not how many cars are being blown away outside by large CGI bubbles.

“No warning. No time. No escape,” reads the DVD cover of Absolute Zero, to which I’d like to add: “But plenty of Fahey.” There it is, the crux of the film, and perhaps the crux also of life: three negations, in turn negated by the presence of Fahey. This is not merely some sordid analogy, far from it. It’s truly indicative of Fahey’s omniscience that he can mollify the fiery palpitations of a treble No, not simply disarming them of their pain-inducing facilities, but also transmogrifying them into something altogether better. By assimilating the negations, Fahey is able to remind us that we are but a speck of dust floating down his corneas, his stature standing proud as the fulcrum of existence, doing so once again through the profound tonalities of his cinematic sculptures.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Until Death

The damn question never goes away, forever bounding back after you’ve hurled it away with a bolt of indifference, pressing its pug features directly into the sternum of your preoccupation, demanding an answer, yet fully aware that the inherent ambiguity buttressing its riddle will fail to be silenced by a sentence of simplified stream of consciousness. What is this rampaging query, this subject of so much scorn and confusion? It’s none other than the dissonant rhymes of: what is art?

The bastard beast saddles up to the platform of the intellect, pure embodiment of migraines everywhere, all set to be loaded up with vapid croaks of misinformed generalisation.

“What?” says a young fellow atop a stone bollard, perusing the pages of the Daily Star with a stealthy finger, “well, surely to fuck, art is less a material object than the affect engendered in the mind of an individual beholding a certain object, an affect of such specificity that we attribute to it labels of grandeur that are subsequently projected externally onto the object in question.” And with that he wearily turned round, tucking his face once again into the bowels of his newspaper and coughing up a solid wedge of sputum.

But what the name of Jeff Fahey’s delayed fame is this enigmatic affect? More to the point, is it in fact Jean Claude Van Damme? This is the very question interrogated by the film Until Death. Yet this cinematic specimen stops short at dishing out the most adjective-laden of elucidations, identifying the site for an exploration into the perils of art in two furry mounds that flank our fearless protagonist’s face, nodes of stunning neon certitude that achieve what was previously deemed impossible, the act of ameliorating the luminous figure of Van Damme. Never before would I have conjectured that such a phenomenal coalescence could be within the realm of feasibility, lashed with a rare potentiality that defies rationality. To be aware that much of the early gossip concerning Until Death expressed lively celebration at the supposed working title of Sideburns of Death is to cast the light of aptness upon the film; granted, this could only be a title locked up in the epiphanies of an early script draft, but it sums up proceedings with such efficacy as to warrant repeated citation.

These kernels of sideburn wisdom will be returned to in due course. Meanwhile, let us ask: what odyssey does the name of Jean Claude Van Damme grace this time?

In Until Death the Belgian sprite plays Anthony Stowe, a hardened cop incarcerated in a routine of heroin rushes and altercations with those on both sides of the law. This man, leather jacket welded to his frame, enjoys nothing more than to piss off his colleagues, attracting a surfeit of dirty looks each and every time he wanders round the office, a perpetual grimace snug over his battered face. Polarised by an innate intent that says, “Get that bad deviant you’ve been after for an age,” and another instinctual urge that whispers, “There may be an old buddy of yours down in forensics that requires a good dose of career wrecking,” Stowe’s multidirectional disdain has no reason to be anxious of depletion, seems that there’s oodles to go about. He even finds time to sweet-talk his wife with such heartfelt maxims as: “what the fuck do you want?”

Setting new standards in eloquence, and winning awards left and right for being an ideal spouse, Stowe’s late arrival for a cosy dinner with the missus at the local karaoke bar turns out to be one letdown too much for her and prophecies of divorce are consequently radiated from her indignation. Perhaps a little harsh one might conclude, Stowe did not purposely leave her waiting, he had been very busy doing a hooker up the jacksy over a pool table in a seedy bar. Some people were just born impatient.

Slightly irritated by this conjugal disintegration, alongside the continuing lack of success in tying his nemesis to the ridges of his fist, Stowe descends further into the breaches of drugs and alcohol. His perforated countenance was probably gestated in a womb full of whiskey – amniotic fluid? Fuck off, double scotch’ll do. Quick cuts to him shooting-up off the highway come to take the place of gunfights and deeds performed in the name of the legality machine; yet despite this, he finds time nevertheless to gallivant into a shower of shrapnel on occasion – be careful you nefarious lawbreakers, this man will snort the criminality off your face!

Eventually, the nasty business of inevitability comes rushing down the stairs, bawling, and shouting something or other about “Van Damme can’t be a deadbeat junky, this just ain’t right.” Hence we witness Stowe take a bullet to the face, lounge about in a coma for a while, wake up a fresh faced saint and go on to rebuild bridges long-pulverised by petulance and disinterest.

Until Death presents us with two diametrically opposed Van Dammes: one whose gullets bark curses upon all, spitting expletives from the bags under his eyes, urinating over the edicts of his chief with nary a thought for upset feelings; then there’s the other one who wastes time banally making amends and righting wrongs previously revelled in, whilst simultaneously being sheathed in the foul smell of tender piano music. Needless to say, this latter incarnation deserves to be harpooned into the sea of sickening redemption from which it came. Comas can be a traumatic event in a life, I will admit that, but spin your mind backwards in time to the year of 1990, the date of Steven Seagal’s dalliances in coma sleep. In Hard to Kill, Seagal exploded out of his coma, dragging his bearded self off to an electrifying training montage, whereas Van Damme in Until Death seems to get impeded by his ABCs – a sad state of affairs, you’ll undoubtedly agree.

What is the reason for this perverse transmogrification? Is it merely narrative convention defecating over us once again, just as in Superman 3?

Well no. Observe the ambulations of Van Damme pre- and post-coma closely, scrutinise every fine detail, and you will discover the glaring truth: sideburns. That’s right, as stated heretofore, facial borders of the utmost tranquillity decorate Van Damme’s head, polished ornaments of celestial beauty, but when he ends his enforced hibernation, they are not there. I believe the entire film can be reduced to this transition to sideburn absence. Stunned into consciousness by the gaps on his face, Van Damme lies shocked on his hospital bed, “where the fuck did they put my sideburns?” inquires his dreary pores. Sideburned Van Damme was able to accomplish the most violent of tasks at high tempo, springing into action at the flicker of an awry bullet, while also weighed down under the burden of nihilism and shackled to the throes of addiction. In contrast, this emaciated skull bereaved of all former sideburn glory wanders around aimlessly, pining over his erstwhile disregard for the human race and mourning the very loss of his sideburns that has caused this disgrace.

The film ends in a grid of spaghetti western motifs deep in the heart of a docklands warehouse, a vibrant mix of stand-off and slow-motion gunfight, a flashing kaleidoscope of cross-cutting that sees Van Damme finally ascend to complete redemption as he saves the wife and exterminates the bad guy. But strands of plot remain unanswered, left to waft uneasily in the wind, namely the issue of those sideburns, which returns again and again. Where did they go? Who took them? What did they do with them? Who are ‘they’? Will the sideburns come back? Can Van Damme find it in himself to grow another duo of those glistening marvels? Is it even possible?

Like the sideburns themselves, the rejoinders to these queries are conspicuous in their absence. Until Death sees fit to teasingly showcase what may be the greatest Van Damme character of all time, even surpassing the dance frenzies of Kurt Sloane in Kickboxer, but then cruelly injects him with a moral disposition and, dare I say it, a slew of compassion. Luckily, the alteration occurs after the halfway point, meaning that we do get a hefty helping of Stowe goodness, something to be cherished until the next time Van Damme plays a despised police officer with spirals of narcotic spores running riot in his corneas.

What is art? Art is Jean Claude Van Damme blazoned with rigid outcroppings of hair and profundity, boisterous ruby chippings of ethereal paradise, microcosmic shuffles of epitomising ecstasy, harbingers of porcelain rectitude, textured topographies writhing in harmonious union – in other words, the sideburns of death.