Skin Trade fails to satisfy even the qualified expectations that one brings to a low-rent Dolph Lundgren ass-kicker. There’s no beauty to this film, little rhythm, none of the physical grace that action-film fans crave even if they don’t know they do. The gunplay sequences, which all look the same, lamely rely on the old trope of a few men, in close proximity to one another, failing to hit their mark despite their supposed excellence in the field of killing. In these battles royales, which move at the speed of molasses, the patch-worn editing often awkwardly, suggestively connotes when one day’s shooting ended and another probably began; one can feel the labor behind each setup. The fistfights are more viscerally distinctive, particularly a long confrontation in which characters played by Lundgren and Tony Jaa proceed to beat the shit out of each other against one of the film’s countless murky gray warehouse backdrops.
But even this bit is only comparatively diverting after sitting through an hour of ludicrous, needlessly convoluted exposition pertaining to a story of Serbians who kidnap Asian girls and sell them into sexual slavery throughout the world. As with many action thrillers, great and not-so-great alike, one can sense the filmmakers licking their chops at their bad guys’ venality, as it relieves them of having to feign social responsibility for the murders of the nameless extras that are perpetrated by Lundgren’s aggrieved cop. (The only response solicited by the film’s violence is the usual gross titillation that’s courted by the rape scenes.) No one mourns the death of sex traffickers after all, though audiences watching this bottom-feeder sleaze-o-rama might, because the big, bad boss hog is played by Ron Perlman, who somehow surmounts his regrettable accent to retain his dignity in an overwrought mess that entirely squanders the talents of Jaa, Michael Jai White, and Peter Weller. Even Lundgren has something, a sort of tattered, tower-esque, Frankenstein-monster anti-grace that’s been occasionally mined by inventive genre filmmakers to unnerving effect, though his monosyllabic creepiness here scans as mostly unintentional.