A Fistful of Van Damme
Whilst I would never say that Jean-Claude Van Damme has made a great movie his stuff is often watch able as is the case of the direct-to-video "Inferno" or "Desert Heat" as it is also known. But the thing which makes "Inferno" entertaining is not so much Jean-Claude Van Damme, who does what he does in many movies, but the storyline which is basically a take on "Yojimbo" or for those who haven't seen that then think of Clint Eastwood in "A Fistful of Dollars". Director John G. Avildsen and writer Tom O'Rourke do a reasonable job of adapting the story of a stranger coming to town and playing two ruling families against each other quite well, or at least well enough so that "Inferno" isn't just about the action and Jean-Claude Van Damme scoring with women. It's by no means great but anyone who enjoys movies which have that element of a stranger coming to town and kicking butt will find something redeemable in it.
Having grown tired of living former soldier Eddie Lomax (Jean-Claude Van Damme - The Quest) is making the journey to visit his old friend Johnny Six Toes (Danny Trejo - Con Air), looking for a reason that he shouldn't call it a day. But on his travels across the sun baked plains he ends up falling victim to the Hogan brothers who having shot him steal his bike and leave him from dead. Dying isn't the problem for Eddie but the fact they stole his bike which was to be a present for Johnny keeps him going. And so having been rescued and cared for by his old friend he heads to the local town to get the bike back and what better way to do that than play the Hogan's off against the other major gang in town who between them run a protection racket and drug trafficking business.
So as already mentioned "Inferno" is basically an adaptation of "Yojimbo" and so after a prolonged opening where we meet the suicidal Eddie Lomax, watch him get shot and left for dead in the middle of the sun baked plains, healed by his old Indian friend Johnny six toes we then enter the stereotypical stranger comes to town part. To be honest whilst there are various cliche Jean-Claude Van Damme scenes, such as him scoring with two much younger blondes, "Inferno" doesn't really stray from the obvious path. That means Eddie ends up making many friends in the town as he plays the two major gangs against each other, finds romance, a reason to live and yep be the hero with a little help from a few quirky locals. On one hand it's unoriginal but it works because in a strange way it is perfect as a Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick.
Now rather ironically whilst "Inferno" is an action flick it almost feels like Jean-Claude Van Damme wanted it to be less about the action and him trying to deliver drama. It means that whilst there are those typical moments of Jean-Claude Van Damme kicking butt, shooting people etc there aren't as many as you would expect. And in a way it kind of works because whilst Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn't really deliver a brilliantly dramatic performance it doesn't end up being just about the action. It does help that whilst obvious the storyline is enough to make "Inferno" interesting when there isn't any butt kicking.
But whilst the action may have been toned down or at least restrained the other stereotypical Jean-Claude Van Damme moments haven't and to be honest it is these cliche elements which end up making "Inferno" cheesy. Now there is nothing wrong with Jean-Claude Van Damme playing the hero who scores with a couple of women, you expect it, but watching him stand there butt naked in just a pair of cowboy boots is more that cheesy. And whilst that scene and many other cliche moments are played to be funny they end up being embarrassing and laughable.
Aside from Jean-Claude Van Damme who expectedly takes centre stage there are a few familiar faces who crop up in "Inferno". Danny Trejo shows up as Eddie's mysterious Indian friend Johnny Six Toes and Pat Morita is amusing as the quirky local handyman Jubal Early. In fact it is the variety of quirky characters which makes "Inferno" surprisingly entertaining especially Bill Erwin who is just brilliant as Eli Hamilton the shop owner who alternates between smoking a cigarette and sucking on oxygen with such comic flare.
What this all boils down to is that "Inferno" is a surprisingly entertaining Jean-Claude Van Damme movie thanks to the storyline. Compared to "Yojimbo" it is terrible but compared to other Jean-Claude Van Damme movies it kind of works and that is down to the fact that whilst there is action and plenty of stereotypical Jean-Claude Van Damme moments it is the storyline which takes centre stage, well centre stage behind Jean-Claude Van Damme who is in just about every single scene.