Van Damme finds some Prison Redemption
When his wife is murdered Kyle Lord (Jean-Claude Van Damme) believes that the law will deal with her killer but it is the ineptitude of the law which leads to the killer going free and Kyle turning vigilante by killing him. Unfortunately for Kyle the law doesn't mess up his case and he finds himself sentenced and sent to a maximum security facility where the warden and guards force the prisoners to fight to the death for their own pleasure and profit. Struggling to cope with not only life inside but also the death of his wife Kyle tries to commit suicide but it unable to and finds himself forced to fight. As Kyle turns in to a beast and everything he hates he finds himself with a much bigger battle, to be the man he always was rather than the man he is becoming.
If I asked you to write what happens in a movie based in a prison the chances are you will come up with two stories; there will be one about a prisoner setting about escaping and the other will be about a cruel warden and guards who use the prisoners for their own sadistic pleasure by having them fight. I seriously doubt you would come up with another story idea because prison movies don't have that many different themes. As such when I say that "In Hell" is a Jean-Claude Van Damme prison movie the one thing you can guess is that it isn't going to break any new ground when it comes to story ideas.
As such for the most "In Hell" is routine with Van Damme being the good guy in a prison where there are illegal fights being staged for the warden's pleasure and profit. And typically in this sort of set up the good guy also tries to help a younger prisoner who is attacked by another prisoner who takes a fancy to him. It is a lot of routine stuff with little in the way of narrative surprise.
But where as other action stars churn out movies and walk through them without really trying the one thing you get from Van Damme is effort and it is appreciated. Maybe Van Damme will never win awards for his acting but the fact he tries to deliver character always helps as does the fact that he always delivers good action and that means less use of editing to make the action look good. And that is what you get "In Hell", Van Damme acting and delivering character whilst also delivering the action and doing it in a brutal manner rather than making it over slick and fancy.
What this all boils down to is that "In Hell" isn't a great movie, in fact a lot of it is just routine prison movie stuff. But as a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie you get the bonus of Van Damme trying to deliver character and that helps no end to make this entertaining.