I am one of Van Damme's biggest fans and always have been. I am a martial artist and his films have always interested me, but I never pretended they were actually great movies from any other standpoint than they featured great fight scenes. I don't think I have rated any of his recent films above a 3 and frankly, with some, that has been generous. Until Death gets a 4 from me. It is a rather gritty movie, like many of his recent ones (i.e. Wake of Death), but has elements and scenes that raise it above subpar and any of the recent Seagal straight-to-dvd garbage.
A Vic Mackey styled narcotics cop, Anthony Stowe (Van Damme), is basically a cop who doesn't care anymore as he has had his feel of seeing corruption around him and its influence on him (he is not necessarily a stereotypical good cop himself). Not only is he failing at his job, but also failing at his marriage (you will not like Van Damme for the first 30-45 min.). After a failed drug sting that was supposed to nab his former corrupt partner--Callahan--Stowe falls deeper into drugs and alcohol. Due to his drug abuse, he isn't on his toes and gets ambushed and put into a coma. After awaking from his coma, he is a changed man who realizes he has a lot of wrongs to right. He goes about doing this and in the midst gets dragged back into the conflict with his former partner in an ultimate showdown.
Plot - C
If you watch and think, "Been there, seen that," you are probably right. Pretty much any gritty cop movie or television show has had a plot similar to the plot in this movie. There is no originality and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The movie sticks to the grittiness of a cop movie/television show and never lets up. There is a lot of graphic violence (i.e. hands being blown off, people being shot graphically in the head), so it is not for the squeamish. The overall riding theme of redemption kicks in after Stowe (Van Damme) wakes up from his coma. The ending can be seen way before it happens and there are no surprises. Again, this does not imply it is a bad plot, just one that has been used many times before (i.e. Training Day).
Character Development/Acting - C/C
As with most Van Damme movies, there isn't much character development or acting. What is surprising with this movie is that Van Damme actually overshadows his fellow actors (which is usually the reverse) by doing a really good job at presenting a flawed, but overall good person. I'm used to seeing Van Damme in hero type roles instead of an anti-hero role. This departure really makes it hard for the viewer to pull for Van Damme, but shows that Van Damme is fully capable of playing a troubled soul. He is most effective in his acting after his character comes out of the coma. As for supporting actors/characters, none are very memorable except for Stephen Rea who plays Stowe's former partner, now turned crooked cop and the movie's main bad guy--Callahan. The criticism of the actors and development of their characters--particularly the lesser cops in the movie--is well justified. They really are not good and add very little to the movie.
Music/Sound - B/C
There was a recurring piece of music that I found memorable, though for the most part it was typical of this type of movie. The sound for the gun fights was very clear and effective. Nothing really stands out though.
Cinematography/Visual Effects - B/B
The movie featured some interesting set pieces (supposedly the movie is set in New Orleans, but I doubt it was actually filmed there) and has some memorable scenes, filmed very tightly and realistically. The diner shootout and the final warehouse shootout were filmed very well and were not too choppy or incoherent like is sometimes common in these films. There isn't much hand-to-hand fighting and no martial arts for the diehard Van Damme fans (there is one kick--if you blink you'll miss it). All the action revolves around gun fights. There were a few film tricks which the director used to emphasize Van Damme's inner turmoil and to tell certain parts of the story. They were interesting and added some uniqueness. The gun shots to body parts were very realistic as I mentioned above. The special/visual effects are very realistic. The film is shot mainly in daytime settings so it is very clear, except for a few nighttime scenes, which are still well lit and filmed. The movie has the look of a much more expensive movie.
DVD/DVD Features - B/F
As with most direct-to-dvd movies nowadays, the DVD picture and sound quality are very good, but there are virtually no bonus features. The only bonus (special) feature is a previews section of other direct-to-dvd movies (interestingly enough, no trailer for Until Death--but there are trailers for Van Damme's Second in Command and The Hard Corps, both of which did not have their own trailers on their discs either).
Overall - B
Most people will enjoy the movie, sans any martial arts, which may turn off diehard Van Damme fans. People looking for a great movie will be sorely disappointed. People looking for a slightly above average action movie will be pleased. It is far superior than the direct-to-dvd stuff Seagal is putting out. Interesting to note: I went to Best Buy and Circuit City and neither store was carrying this movie. They said it was an online store only title. IF YOU LIKE VAN DAMME MOVIES, PLEASE SUPPORT HIM BY BUYING THE MOVIES IN THE STORES. First he disappeared from theaters and now from store shelves. Not a good sign. Anyways, this movie is worth a rental (mainstream audience) or purchase (for Van Damme fans).