You'd think that Jean-Claude Van Damme, cast as a cop wh poses as a prisoner in an undercover assignment, would be able to take care of himself and the film.
No go. Not this time. ''Death Warrant'' does nothing for Van Damme and even less for the spectator. Its trouble is that it doesn't know what it wants to be, a prison movie with all the attendant cliches, or another ''Nightmare on Elm Street,'' with all its cliches.
What it is, actually, is a combination of all these cliches with some very silly footage of its own.
''Death Warrant'' is a brutal movie. In it, Van Damme poses as a prisoner in an institution where a number of young, healthy men are being murdered. The cop's superiors want to know why and the cop finds out after becoming involved in some of the most savage fights ever staged for the screen. You can't begin to believe them, but they are not that much fun to watch.
The film is one beating after another, and it's all plain ugly. It's all plain silly, too. The inmates seem to have the run of the place and when they're on the run, racing down the halls, the plot goes down the drain.
In addition to the usual elements of the standard prison film (the sadistic guards and the evil warden), Van Damme also has to deal with a madman who is in prison because of the cop. This is when the movie begins to play like ''Elm Street'' and the ''Halloween'' movies. The madman, played by Patrick Kilpatrick, superhuman. Toward the end, the cop boots him into a fiery furnace, but you know these horror films. The madman, now afire, bursts out of the oven, ready for one more go at the cop.
It's laughable. It's silly. It's a bore, and that's a shame because Van Damme deserves better than this. Anybody does.
* A cop is sent to prison on an undercover assignment.
CAST: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cynthia Gibb, Robert Guillaume, Patrick Kilpatrick
DIRECTOR: Deran Sarafian
RATING: R (violence, language, nudity)
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes