“Skin Trade” is available on demand and on iTunes starting today. The film will have a limited theatrical release starting the Friday after next.
Nick Cassidy (Dolph Lundgren) is a cop from New York currently on a human trafficking case, which leads him to a Serbian gangster named Viktor Dragovic (Ron Perlman). Nick ends up killing Dragovic’s son in a police raid, which leads to Dragovic retaliating and killing Nick’s family.
Nick goes on a ballistic rampage after the death of his wife and daughter and tracks Dragovic back to Southeast Asia; particularly Cambodia. It’s there that he begins to encounter a tenacious Bangkok cop named Tony Vitayakul (Tony Jaa). After initially clashing heads at first, the two officers eventually team-up in an attempt to bring the human trafficking network to its knees.
“Skin Trade” is a project that Dolph Lundgren cooked up himself back in 2006-2007 after reading an article on human trafficking. In hindsight, it’s difficult to believe that it took four writers to make this work; the screenplay is written by Gabriel Dowrick, Steven Elder, and Dolph Lundgren with an uncredited rewrite by “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” and “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” director John Hyams. Since the film basically took eight years to properly piece together, you have a three part “Taken” franchise that beat “Skin Trade” to the punch. The only difference is that the Ekachai Uekrongtham directed action thriller was able to land a better cast.
In addition to Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, and Ron Perlman, “Skin Trade” has supporting roles for Michael Jai White (“Black Dynamite”) and a very aged yet still awesome Peter Weller (the original “Robocop”). For what it’s worth, the storyline has a pretty steady flow to it, but it’s incredibly simple and your typical revenge thriller at the end of the day. The film is worth seeing for the action sequences alone as the film has a memorable Lundgren/Jaa fight and an impressive battle between White/Jaa.
After becoming a monk back in 2010, Tony Jaa returned to acting in 2013 but immediately fizzled out with a sequel to “The Protector” that didn’t live up to expectations. He appeared in “Furious 7” earlier this year in his first English speaking role and now seems to be back on track as a serious action star despite having to drop out of the “Kickboxer” remake due in 2016. Jaa is essentially action movie magic every time he’s on screen. His acting in “Skin Trade” may be a bit much at times, but his Muay Thai fighting style and ability to make any chase sequence exciting is something Donnie Yen or Jackie Chan would be proud of. The dirt bike chase followed by the night club sequence in “Skin Trade” promptly puts you on the edge of your seat before the heavy hitters occur later on in the film.
Even the choreography shines during the action sequences of the film. Particularly during the fight between Reed and Tony, they throw each other through windows, kick through doors, and battle through sheds and warehouses all while using their surroundings as weapons. Everything is positioned like a side scrolling video game, so the camera captures everything in what feels like one seamless take.
With the amount of writers that contributed to the screenplay, you’d think that every loose end would be tied up. “Skin Trade” is pretty sloppy at times, especially when it comes to which side certain characters are on. Reed is the most confusing of the bunch since it’s almost impossible to decipher if he’s working with Nick, siding with Dragovic, or looking out for himself. When Nick goes off the deep end, he gets a little happy with his shotgun and shoots first before asking questions. Even though he’s shooting up common thugs, he’s never reprimanded and it’s forgotten about as soon as they leave the country. The film also has an open ending you see coming as soon as Nick’s house explodes. While it would be fun to have Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa team up again, a potential sequel would have to go above and beyond to capitalize on this kind of recognizable cast.
This is an action film that knows how to deliver well executed action sequences. While its storyline is better than you’re probably expecting it doesn’t take enough risks to stand out when paired up against similar films. “Skin Trade” is worth seeing for Tony Jaa’s triumphant return to the type of film that made him a household name as his martial arts abilities seemingly have only improved over time, but this is otherwise a lackluster revenge thriller intertwined with a run of the mill human trafficking counterplot.