For varied reasons both personal and geo-political, we’re not able to bring you the fresh podcast meat you’ve come to expect from us this month, our apologies for that. So, we do what we always do in times of trouble and turn to our spirit animal, Jean Claude Van Damme for inspiration. Here is, I think, his every appearance in our podcast, including a very special look at JCVD taken from this podcast’s previous incarnation from all the way back in 2009. Apologies for the somewhat inconsistent audio quality on that one in particular. We were young. Of course, there will be some people who don’t want to listen to over three hours of chat about Brussel’s finest sprout, and you lot can take the day off, and we hope to have something fresh with you soon. For the rest, settle in and let JCVD wash over you, starting with, appropriately enough, JCVD.
We’re rather fond of JCVD and highly recommend it, especially if you’ve dismissed it on the basis of its star, Jean Claude Van Damme, as it’s one of the most remarkable and effective curios we’ve seen in a good long time. When the more-or-less real life Jean Claude Van Damme walks into a post office, it’s not the queues at the forefront of his mind as he’s taken hostage by the armed gang robbing the place. Eventually word of this gets to the cops, who through a misunderstanding think that JCVD’s behind the scheme, given a patina of credibility by his well publicised personal and financial troubles. What follows is something of an odd cross between Dog Day Afternoon, a theatrical comedic farce and the notes from Van Damme’s psychiatrist. There’s really no way in hell that this ought to work, which makes it all the more surprising when it does. By turns funny, suspenseful, insightful and most importantly, utterly enjoyable.
Sly Stallone teams up with Jason Statham and, well, by the third instalment pretty much everyone who has ever made an action film. The first instalment suffers from a strange mix of tone, at points wanting to be taken seriously as Sly helps out an island in the grip of a military regime, mixed roughly equally with people being dissolved by gunfire in a way that makes Commando feel restrained.
The second instalment drops the certification at the same time as upping the body count and treating itself a little less seriously as they fight Jean-Claude Van Damme’s forces of evil. There’s a better level of familiarity between the many stars, and in particular the bromance between Statham and Stallone is rather less forced, making for a more enjoyable experience all round.
The latest, at the time of recording, is another ramp up from two, a central part of the gimmick being finding a new generation of Expendables which largely defeats the purpose of the exercise, in our opinion, certainly when the new team is much less charismatic than the old team. It’s not so much of an issue though, as before long all hands are at the pump to smite evil Mel Gibson. Clearly a subscriber to the “more is more” philosophy, you could argue it’s all a little too much, but it remains an enjoyable action flick.
First up, the treatment of Capcom’s tremendously popular, genre-defining punchy-kicky game Street Fighter. It takes a very loose cue from Super Street Fighter 2, albeit with a bunch of wildly redesigned character motivations and roles, putting them into an action adventure framework that, very much unlike the game, has an actual rudimentary plot to it. Which may or may not be a positive.
Jean-Claude Van Damme takes the mantle of Colonel Guile, leader of an Allied Nations task force entering the civil war-torn region of Shadaloo, where the forces of self-proclaimed General Bison (Raul Julia) have taken control. Leading lights amongst Guile’s forces are Cammy (Kylie Minogue), T. Hawk (Gregg Rainwate) and of course Captain Sawada (Kenya Sawada), who I’m sure you remember from… the video game adaptation of this movie adaptation of the video game? MYHEADASPLODE.
Team Evil includes Bison’s goons, Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski) and Dee Jay (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), and he’s also forcing Doctor Dhalsim (Roshan Seth) to perform brainwashing and mutation experiments on Guile’s best mate Carlos Blanka (Robert Mammone) in the hopes of creating a perfect genetic soldier, Blanka being one of the hostages taken by Bison as he demands a $20 billion ransom, which prompted Guile’s dispatch to the region.
In the middle of this are Ken (Damian Chapa) and Ryu (Byron Mann), trying and failing to swindle gunrunner Sagat (Wes Studi) and his be-clawed goon Vega (Jay Tavare) before Guile arrests them all, seemingly on a whim, but leveraged into a plot to help locate Bison and infiltrate Ryu and Ken into Bison’s inner circle.
Rounding out the character roster, we have news reporter Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen), her cameraman and sound guy, I guess, E. Honda (Peter Tuiasosopo), and Balrog (the improbably named Grand L. Bush), with their own reasons for revenge on Bison who interject themselves into proceedings, because, well, why not. It’s not like this movie is going for subtlety.
The whole thing is of course heading for Guile and Co. to assault Bison’s base, but it takes a surprising amount of time to get there as it winds through it’s various phases of investigation and secondary confrontations, almost as though it’s trying to be a real film, albeit one with a tone that seems to get caught in the wind between comic action and action adventure.
That said, even without the whole, so-bad-it’s-funny thing, it’s plain as day that this is trying to be funny, so it’s strange that reviews back in 1994 were taking it seriously. Of course a bazooka-toting miniature Ozzie songstress Kylie is laughable. Of course you can’t take Raul Julia’s largest of all possible large hams, scenery-devouring, smidgen over the top delivery of these lines seriously. His tongue, and writer/director’s Steven E. de Souza are firmly in their respective cheeks.
That’s not to say that Die Hard, Commando, and The Running Man writer de Souza is completely successful in what he’s trying to do. Far from it, the intent of scenes often falling so flat it winds up being funny for entirely the wrong reasons, mixed in with some fairly mischievous scenes that do land. It is a very strange film on a number of levels, but one I kind of like.
It’s been a long time since I’ve revelled in habitually watching bad movies for ironic giggles, as life’s too short, but this was one of them back in tha day so I’m not completely sure it’s not nostalgia talking, but compared to most adaptations that take their subject matter so seriously, this is so dementedly goofy it’s tough not to warm to it. I mean, it’s terrible, but just the right sort of terrible. You’ll get much more fun out of this than Tomb Raider, for example.
If you’ve a passing interest in weird action films, this is highly recommended. Most sane people should continue to ignore it, I suppose, but those cats are boring. Live a little, watch this garbage.
Because Bloodsport is, well, Bloodsport, I’d either not noticed or not cared prior to this about the text appearing at the end of this film, claiming it to be a true story, based on the real life exploits of Frank Dux. That holds up in as far as this is an accurate portrayal of what Frank Dux claims he did, although, at the risk of legal action, Frank Dux is an inveterate liar to the point that if he told me water was wet I’d assume the opposite on instinct.
Here Jean-Claude Van Damme inhabits the persona of Dux, as we’re introduced to him training in some no-doubt top secret army facility that totally existed, before ducking out to meet his sensei, Senzo Tanaka. Dux has been chosen to enter the Kumite, a top-secret international underground fight tournament that totally happens, as this documentary will tell us. It’s also one of those top secret underground things that literally everyone knows about, apart from one reporter.
But before we get to that, we need to flash back to a young Dux and how he convinced Senzo to train Dux in the art of ninjutsu alongside his Senzo’s son, an unheard of honour. Perhaps the most notable thing about this segment is that they managed to find a kid actor that’s more wooden than Van Damme was at this point in his career, which scientists had previously determined to be theoretically impossible.
Senzo’s kid had previously also been invited to a Kumite, but he did not survive the tournament of death. Something something reclaim honour something something vengeance. So off Dux goes, with two military investigators on his trail trying to stop him, one of whom played by a young Forest Whittaker, which always surprises me. And then I’m surprised that I’m surprised, because, really, who devotes brainspace to memorising Bloodsport?
Dux heads off to Hong Kong, running into fellow fighter, American brute / half-wit Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb, it’s good to see the Bee Gees branching out) and Victor Lin (Ken Siu), who becomes their chaperone in the fight club scene. Dux also runs into journalist / exposition cipher Janice Kent (Leah Ayres), also the love interest for the irresistibly charismatic and beautiful Frank Dux, at least as Frank Dux tells it.
So the tournament begins, with the combatants punching and kicking each other in various combinations, leading to a fight between Dux and the nefarious end boss Bolo Yeung’s Chong Li, who is a big dirty cheater. And also a murderer, but it feels as though the film thinks throwing chalk in Dux’s eyes is the bigger crime. At least as Frank Dux tells it.
Obviously, this film is not a patch on Enter the Dragon in any aspect, but judged along side its contemporaries in the glut of Western-backed martial arts action films that ruled the eighties with an iron fist, this is resolutely okay. Director Newt Arnold actually has quite the reference list as an assistant director, and I don’t think any of the problems with the film are necessarily of his making.
Van Damme’s fight choreography is fine, although not his best – Kickboxer being substantially better a year later, if memory serves, but it’s serviceable. However, anything outside of the Kumite arena is like watching a, well, a bad actor. Couldn’t think of a simile there. Apologies. He’d later go on to show some charisma, and even range and ability in the likes of JCVD and Jean-Claude Van Johnston, but here, not so much, which makes most of the non-punchy-kicky sections kind rough.
Some of the stuff with Donald Gibb is goofy enough to be ironically enjoyable, rather than actually enjoyable, I guess, and Bolo Yeung does make for an imposing antagonist, so it’s not a complete bust. In fact, although it’s several cuts below any of Bruce Lee’s work, I still like Bloodsport at least a little. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re choosing between this and Enter the Dragon, for some reason I can’t possibly imagine, do not hesitate for a second to pick Enter the Dragon. But this world is big enough for the both of them, and if you’ve any interest at all in kung-fu flicks, Bloodsport is worth watching at least once – if only to see how much yarn Frank Dux can spin.
Lukas, or The Bouncer as it is titled in English markets, is a French-Belgian co-production starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as Lukas, a nightclub bouncer in Brussels and sole parent of an eight year-old girl. It’s clear Lukas loves his daughter and that they have a good relationship, so it would be terrible if one, or numerous, persons were to use his daughter as a pawn to coerce him to do things.
Lukas is sacked after an aggressive customer of the nightclub is injured, through no fault of Lukas’s, and a police investigation opened. Thanks to a friend he quickly finds another security job, though he has to fight several other men to a standstill in order to obtain it. Shortly after, Lukas is approached by Maxim Zeroual (Sami Bouajila), a Europol detective who informs Lukas that his new employer is a major counterfeiter, and uses Lukas’s daughter as a pawn to coerce to work for him and spy on his boss.
Impressed by his performance in his “interview”, and short on manpower, the counterfeiter, Jan Dekker (Sam Louwyck), enlists Lukas’s help in the abduction of a drug manufacturer by kidnapping his daughter and using her as a pawn to coerce him. This and further impressive performances see Lukas brought further into Dekker’s trust, allowing him to gain the information the police need about his operation. There will be blood.
I watched Lukas as I was quite excited by this sort of post-JCVD work (the film, not the actor). Sadly, it’s not the knockout I was hoping for but it’s still an effective and low-key little thriller. The script, from Jérémie Guez and director Julien Leclercq, is quite light on dialogue, letting the action and, perhaps most importantly, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s face do much of the storytelling and character work. The Belgian looks weary and nigh-on haunted throughout, and it’s remarkably effective, creating pathos and sympathy with seemingly little effort, and the natural, unforced relationship with his daughter (Alice Verset) adds more.
Of course this is Jean-Claude Van Damme and Leclercq isn’t going to let one of his most valuable assets go to waste, but the action scenes, while reasonably intense, are sparing and believable. His try-out for the job particularly stands out: JCVD may be getting older, though he’s clearly still a specimen, but the fight is portrayed as awkward, dirty and brutal, and more “real” than many movie brawls, requiring minimal suspension of disbelief that he came out on top.
Grim JCVD plus grim Brussels equals a reasonably enjoyable experience, particularly if you’re a Van Damme fan.
Our first film is Hard Target, an updated take on 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game, in which rich men pay for the privilege of hunting and killing a human being. The hunts in this film take place in New Orleans, where former soldiers are recruited amongst the city’s homeless population, and offered $10,000 if they make it ten miles across the city to the river. As they’re only given a five-minute head start, though, and they’re being chased by many people in cars, on motorbikes and with powerful weapons, this is obviously never going to happen.
The first victim we see is Douglas Binder (the screenwriter, Chuck Pfarrer), a victim who, against the express orders of Lance Henriksen’s Emil Fouchon, the man behind the hunt, has a family who will miss him. That family is Yancy Butler’s Nat, who has come to the city seeking her father after his letters to her suddenly stopped. Her search brings her to some of the less salubrious neighbourhoods of the Big Easy, where she is saved from robbery and assault by Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Chance Boudreaux. Introductions made, Nat enlists Chance as a guide and bodyguard as she tries to trace her father, a search which is quickly ended when a police officer magically manages to find the visitor in the middle of the city and tell her that her father’s body has been found.
Cursory investigation by Boudreaux uncovers evidence of his murder, and the single non-striking police officer left in the city, Kasi Lemmons, is convinced to begin an investigation. Meanwhile, Fouchon’s hunt finds another victim, though the heat of the investigation suggests to him it’s time to wrap things up in New Orleans and move to pastures new. Before he does so, though, he decides that Boudreaux must die, and drives him deep into the bayou, where lives his Uncle Douvee, an old Cajun played utterly convincingly by Wilford Brimley.
This sets the scene for a finale in which Fouchon somehow convinces a bunch of rich men to pay him handsomely to do his dirty work for him, and JCVD kicks all of their arses.
(Despite the film taking pains in the early scenes to point out the care Lance Henriksen’s organisation takes to avoid attention, including creating alibis, recruiting the top city pathologist and burning bodies to hide evidence of murder, very soon Arnold Vosloo and the other goons are killing people in the middle of crowded streets, murdering police officers with shotguns in broad daylight and trying to shoot people from motorbikes, all while making no attempt to hide their identity. Whether this is a commentary on the impunity with which the rich can commit crimes in society or shitty screenwriting I’ll let you decide for yourself. Oh, did I mention that the screenwriter, Chuck Pfarrer, is responsible for The Jackal?)
There is a strong argument to be made that John Woo’s first Hollywood film is his best Hollywood film, but, well, damning with faint praise and all that. Hard Target has slow motion, Beretta handguns, motion of reduced speed, birds, motion at a lesser speed than normal, stylised, choreographed action and gunplay, action that is displayed at slower than typical speed and motion that is not quick, so it’s definitely a John Woo film.
By this point JCVD had come on in leaps and bounds as an actor, especially compared to the likes of Bloodsport just five years earlier, and despite an… interesting… hairstyle I’m pretty certain he hadn’t used before, or since, he’s very watchable, and his trademark kicking-people-inna-face shtick really doesn’t get old. Arnold Vosloo is dependably villainous, but Lance Henriksen is chewing the scenery, presumably prompted by the mid-film flip where his cool businessman becomes butthurt angry man because plot, and it’s not really his forte. It’s hard to judge Yancy Butler because she’s mostly just asked for wide-eyed reaction shots, usually in slow motion, and she wide-eye reactions her way right through them. Wilfred Brimley is not even a tiny bit convincing as a Cajun but is plenty entertaining as he tries.
Spider-Man 1 and 2 and The Hurt Locker editor Bob Murawski keeps the action moving along reasonably well, despite the frankly comical number of slow-motion shots, though the action in general feels a little staid by today’s standards: it’s definitely a product of its time.
Setting aside Windtalkers, which I really would like to revisit some time but can no longer speak to with authority, Hard Target probably is John Woo’s best Hollywood film. It’s also crap, just entertaining crap. Could have used a little more slow motion, though.
This 1991 joint reunites John-Claude van Damme, noted kickpunchman and Sheldon Lettich, writer and director of previous JCVD joints like Bloodsport and Lionheart, and a perhaps surprising number of subsequent ones in the wilderness era of JCVDs career. Let’s see if diminishing returns set in early.
After the opening of the Victoria Harbour tunnel in Hong Kong, the part-owner of the construction firm is followed home and killed by a Triad ambush, alongside his wife. However their maid is able to escape with one of the tiny twins, Alex, leaving him to be raised in a HK orphanage run by French nuns. The other, Chad, is whisked to America by bodyguard Frank Avery (Geoffrey Lewis), who raises him to be, ironically enough, something not too dissimilar to the Chads the modern day incells are all angsty about. Both twins are, of course, played by JCVD. As adults. Not babies. Naturally.
Things come to a head twenty-odd years later when Frank has finally tracked down Alex, who appears to be running a mahjong parlour and small time smuggling outfit in Hong Kong, and comes clean to Chad about their tragic family history and their now shared need for vengeance. Off they pop to HK, where the two brothers don’t initially take to each other, and some understandable confusion with Alex’s girlfriend, Alonna Shaw’s Danielle Wilde doesn’t help. This tension will simmer throughout as the B-plot to the affair. Well, I say B-plot. I’ll get to that.
The main order of business is, of course, revenge against the powerful, Triad backed businessman slash drug baron, Alan Scarfe’s Nigel Griffith (screen-writing side note, never name your villain Nigel), his pervy bodyguard, Corinna Everson’s Kara, and them there Triad goons, main threat of course being the imposing Bolo Yeung’s Moon. And I don’t think I’m being too unfair to say there’s not a great deal more to the plot than that, basically alternating action sequences and some scenes of fratricidal bickering before settling their differences for the final assault on, of all things, a cargo ship,
So, there’s not really an A-plot and and B-plot here, it’s all C-plot, perfunctory at best, to the point that even if you were the type to excuse this on genre grounds, this still isn’t going to be a classic. But, those action sequences, I have to say, I’m quite fond of. It’s not genre defining or anything, but they’re solidly handled. JCVD knows how to kick people, and there’s a few quite stylish captures of said kicking.
There’s a touch more gunplay in here than in the previously mentioned JCVD / Lettich team ups, and fittingly enough given the location it seems he’s borrowed heavily from the John Woo / Heroic Bloodshed style of pistols akimbo diving and rolling. Not a patch on the master, of course, but it’s all perfectly serviceable.
The technology of the time didn’t allow for an awful lot of technical trickery, and the composite shots of the two JCVDs used here I think have suffered somewhat in the transition to HD, as they don’t look great. On the positive side, said lack of technical trickery has made for much more convincing action scenes, so that’s nice. More on that in our next film.
As for the whole “portraying two different characters thing”, while no-one’s putting him forward for an Oscar, JCVD is doing what he needs to do here. Alex lets him explore a somewhat more villainous, or at least morally flexible character than we’d seen from him previously, and his initially somewhat goofy Chad persona is also rather more animated than we’d seen from him. Not that he’s a revelation – Alex’s drunken throes of angst borders on laughable – but he does enough to show here a bit more flexible as an actor, albeit still not as flexible as his body.
Double Impact is very dated, of course, and while they just don’t make action movies like this these days, they did, however, make a metric tonne of them like this back in the late eighties to early nineties, and while I enjoyed this quite a lot, it’s still right in the middle of a crowded pack. That makes it a little difficult to recommend pulling this film, in particular, out of the vault as opposed to, say the John Woo or Bruce Lee joints that this liberally steals from, but if you do happen across it I’d certainly not advise against watching it.
Die Hard in an ice hockey stadium. Are we done?
But seriously: Die Hard in an ice hockey stadium. Is that reductive? Certainly. Is it inaccurate? Certainly not. Police Academy 3 and Operation Dumbo Drop scribe Gene Quintano’s script gives a story credit to the wife of the then-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it really ought to be giving it to Roderick Thorp.
A terrorist, who turns out to actually be a thief, has taken over a building, and rigged it with explosives. He is well-prepared, well-armed and ruthless, and knows how to deal with the feds when they turn up. Set against him is one single man, a member of the emergency services, who is running around the building trying to gather information and gradually reduce the number of personnel commanded by the leader. There is a geeky guy wearing glasses watching everything on monitors, a member of the hero’s family becomes endangered and our hero even abseils from the roof of a tall building.
I just described both Sudden Death and Die Hard, and I didn’t have to fudge anything to fit. But for all that Peter Hyam’s 1995 film is a Die Hard knock-off, and it really is (for crying out loud, our French-Canadian hero’s surname is McCord. Jeebus!), it’s also probably the best Die Hard knock-off I’ve seen, and I really quite enjoyed my time with it.
Sudden Death does manage to add a few moments of originality, though, through means of some inventive deaths, among them death by dishwasher and by hambone, as well as having our hero take part in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup, the spectators of which are unwitting hostages. It’s also got one of the more memorable helicopter crashes you’re likely to see, and how often do you see a penguin get beaten up?
He’s no Bruce Willis, but JCVD is on good form here, Powers Boothe is a fun villain and even the young child isn’t irritating. It’s well-produced, entertaining and even managed to surprise me with a character revelation. I recommend you check it out now before Netflix’s planned comedy remake ruins it for you.
‘Allo peeps, Stavros ‘ere. I got beef wiff the Belgian, innit? The following may or may not be a recounting of the plot of 1997s seminal buddy caper Double Team, because I started watching it in bed the other night and I can’t be entirely sure I didn’t immediately fall asleep and dream this shit.
I think what happens is this: we cold open with Jack Quinn (JCVD), some sort of elite CIA operative, rescuing nuclear materials from some asshole in some corner of Eastern Europe. I get the impression that Quinn’s colleagues don’t like him very much, because as he launches his impromptu mission they start running up and down corridors excitedly proclaiming that if he pulls this one off he retires. But that’s by the by, because right now we just need to understand that Jack Quinn is nobody’s fool, and if you were to hand him some sort of procedural tome, a “rule book” if you will, he would probably look at it in disgust before killing you with the extra foot he has hidden on the sole of his kicking foot.
The scene set we now head off to a fairground where Quinn is attempting to ambush Stavros (Mickey Rourke), a very naughty terrorist. There is a tiger in a cage, and when it all goes Pete Tong and the whole fairground blows up except for the tiger we are disappointed that nobody has to fight the tiger, but don’t worry about the tiger; hold that tiger thought. Stavros gets away and Quinn, who gets all exploded but is okay because he’s significantly more excellent than you, wakes up in the Colony, an island prison for former operatives whose expertise in situational analysis is sold to international clients. Apparently the residents of the Colony are quote too valuable to kill and too dangerous to set free” but they’re all over 60 so that sounds like nonsense. Nobody can escape the Colony, but that’s okay because Jack Quinn is not Nobody, but that joke doesn’t work because I implied that if you were nobody you would be the one who could escape. Anyway, Jack Quinn does escape because he’s significantly more excellent than you and isn’t afraid of underwater lasers that cause people to explode for some reason. Hold that tiger thought.
Now Quinn is out to settle the score with Stavros, but wait, his wife, who thinks he’s dead, is a sculptor, and there’s a gallery who just purchased her pieces and is offering to house her and start a new life and the owner of the gallery is…Stavros! I’m trying to help you here by not giving you too much time to think about it so don’t think about it. Did I mention Jack’s wife is pregnant DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.
Anyway there is a reason why Jack needs the help of international arms dealer Yaz (Dennis Rodman), but I’m not going to worry about it and neither should you. Yaz is a bit weird and edgy which you can tell by his orange string vest and the fact he’s Dennis Rodman, and for some reason he decides at some point despite having no reason whatsoever to do so to help Jack Quinn save his wife and new baby because the baby has been born now from Stavros. There’s a really angry oriental gent in a hotel who is so assured of his martial arts skills that he chooses to flick a chair in the air and then kick it at Jack Quinn as an opening move, and I think I remember Mickey Rourke crying because he stepped on a land mine and can’t run away from a tiger REMEMBER THE TIGER! and it was all happening inside the Coliseum in Rome. But ultimately I have no idea what the hell I just watched.
Double Team might stand as an example of the pitfalls of trying to transplant Hong Kong talent wholesale into the American studio system, but it’s just too damn weird to be much of an example of anything, except maybe cocaine. Interestingly the screenplay reads like a bad dub of an early John Woo movie, but it isn’t; it’s actually being touted as a functional piece of literature upon which millions of dollars ought to be brought to bear in service of presenting it on screen. This is patently mental, as can be evidenced by lines like “Stavros is a snake: if you look him in the eyes he’ll get you in the back,” which does nothing so much as suggest that screenwriter Don Jakoby thinks a snake’s eyes are located in its ass.
Enough stuff blows up in inventive ways that the movie at least gives the impression of some effort being expended, but the same cannot be said of the performances of its leads, in particular Dennis Rodman whose stunt casting defies any kind of logic. It wouldn’t be fair to criticise Rodman’s acting per se, because it’s not technically acting, and it’s not just bad line reading either. What Rodman does is somehow create a third method of expression that exists beyond performance, and I’m not sure he ought not to be celebrated for it, it’s just that it doesn’t belong in a film so much as it does a peyote-fuelled vision quest. Ultimately thought the most wasted talent is Hark, who seems here to be trapped inside a cross between a mid-90s MTV video and a fever dream, thrusting upon us bonkers moments that sometimes border on the Takashi Miike end of the spectrum.
Fortunately this is not a movie that sets out to take itself seriously, and it is at least entertaining in some sense of the word. I can’t imagine I’ll ever watch Double Team again, but I’m also not sad about having watched it. It is very much a thing that exists.
We recently covered a film in which ol’ JC punched a cobra, and in this episode he’s already beaten up a penguin and kicked a tiger. Here, he’s destroying some Pumas. Sadly, though, they’re the German running shoe type, and our “JCVD fighting animals” theme is shown, at last, to be nothing more than a paper-thin veneer over our desire just to continue talking about JCVD. The truth will out, but our desire to shoehorn more JCVD into our feed will out… erer?
Here Monsieur Van Varenberg teams up once more with Tsui Hark, but Dennis Rodman is replaced in the “don’t give up the day job” co-star role by Rob Schneider, whose day job this unfortunately is. The script is from Die Hard co-writer Steven E. de Souza (it’s strange how these things seem to cross-pollinate, isn’t it?), and involves Rob Schneider’s Tommy Hendricks, and his partner, JCVD’s Marcus Ray, and their business of manufacturing jeans for a US fashion brand, and also selling counterfeit goods. But not the counterfeit jeans that are an important plot point, that was someone else. Apparently. And Tommy is also a CIA operative who has been working undercover in Hong Kong for four years on… something. But not what the film is about – miniaturised Russian explosives disguised as button batteries and studs – as he’s totally oblivious to that until Marcus literally steps on one. This is a dumb film.
The whole thing is about a sub-sub-James Bond plot by some Russians, possibly the mafia, to plant the devices in lots of everyday objects, such as those aforementioned counterfeit jeans, as well as electronics and toys, and then extort $100 million dollars a month from the US government to not blow them all up.
There’s also a Hong Kong detective (I think) who seems to be doing his own investigation into the explosives and who, unlike Tommy, does know about them, as he has a handy “miniaturised exploding battery” location device, though the hows and the whys of any of this are not considered important for we poor viewers, who also have to put up with horrible camera-work and editing, bizarre slo-mo and blurring while having no idea what’s going on, nor having any reason to care.
To add to the mystery, the film is also set in the few days before Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule, with the finale taking place during the ceremonies, though for no good reason, and instead raising the question of why the celebrations are still going ahead the day after a Hong Kong landmark was blown sky high, along with hundreds of people, by terrorists. Did I mention that this is a dumb film?
And I nearly forgot: one of the opening scenes involves an underground, unlicensed charity rickshaw race in which people cheat and others get maimed and injured. You know. For charity.
Additionally, the poster is one of the ugliest and dullest I think I’ve ever seen, especially for a film of this scale – TriStar Pictures apparently being unable to allocate any of the film’s $35 million budget to more than five minutes of an artist’s time – though it does, I suppose, set one’s expectations appropriately.
I certainly had reservations about watching this when Craig suggested it due to the presence of Rob Schneider, but, and I can barely believe I’m saying this, Knock Off manages to underuse him. For at least half of the film, and probably more, Schneider doesn’t give what would be called a “Rob Schneider performance”: he’s just there, largely inoffensively. However, at a few points the script does call for him to be more annoying and, well, Schneider-y, and he’s not there for it, though it’s not his fault. This film has caused me to defend Rob Schneider. What the hell is happening?
Knock Off is a complete dud: confusing, stupid, messy, and unlike Double Team, which is atrociously bad but at least keep me constantly asking “who, what and why?”, is just too damn boring to care about. Needs real pumas out of ten.
The mid-90s; remember those? Hell of a time. Turns out to have been golden hour for big budget action movies, but we weren’t to know that. We were in our mid-teens, in love with Hong Kong heroic bloodshed, and if anyone so much as looked at a pair of matching handguns our brains probably started melting out of our ears. In 1993 John Woo made the hop across the Pacific to make his US debut with Hard Target, which my comrades have spoken about at some length already in a prior ‘cast. At that point the movie’s star, one JCVD, had a bit of momentum behind him, and it’s not hard to imagine that he saw in that movie’s success something of a formula. So it was Van Damme himself suggested tapping up more Hong Kong talent, this time City on Fire director Ringo Lam, for another high profile outing in the form of 1996’s Maximum Risk.
Pair Van Damme up with a smokin’ hot twenty-something rising star in the form of Natasha Henstridge, a trans-Atlantic “Paris cops vs New York Ruskie gangsters” plot, a hot pinch of mistaken identity, shake over ice and watch the kudos (and cash) come rollin’ on in.
Alain Moreau (explains the accent) is a Nice cop whose attention is called by his colleague Sebastien (Jean-Hughes Actually French Anglade) to the appearance of a corpse which looks staggeringly similar to Alain. Actually, it’s identical. We the audience have been privvy in the first five minutes of the movie as to how the corpsage evented itself, but I’m not going to bother too much with that because it is quite unintentionally funny and the only moment I actually enjoyed in the entire movie, so I’d quite like to keep it for myself if you don’t mind. Anyhoo a bit of rummaging around in a lawyer’s office reveals two things: an adoption agreement and a large, angry Russian psycho with a red face called… Red Face. Red Face duly gets his comeuppance as he is knocked cold by Alain and thrown into the raging furnace that is the now-torched office. Ha! There’ll be no coming back from that!
Alain discovers that the dead man is in fact his identical twin, Mikhail Suverov, separated at an early age and raised by a wealthy gangster on the streets of New York’s Little Odessa. Mikhail had apparently been making a clean break from that way of life and was in search of his brother when the Russians caught up with him in Nice. Determined to get to the bottom of all this rather than, y’know, having the sense one would assume of a seasoned detective and keeping well clear of incredibly dangerous gangsters on an entirely separate continent, Alain reckons it would be a hoot to fly to New York and have a poke around in Mikhail’s old life. Along the way he is, obviously, mistaken for his twin brother who nobody had any reason to know about, and subsequently Mikhail’s problems are now Alain’s problems. Oh, and Mikhail’s girlfriend too, because there’s nothing morally repugnant about sleeping with a woman who legitimately thinks you’re her partner as opposed to his twin brother. Hee hee! Hilarity ensues.
Only it doesn’t.
This podcast has laboured tirelessly now to bring to your attention that the only thing conceivably better than “a Van Damme” is “two Van Dammes,” (I think the collective noun is a “split” of Van Dammes), so consider this an apology of sorts. Almost nothing about Maximum Risk makes sense, from the plot, to the casting, to the fact that Ringo Lam would look at this script and think “Yes!” I watched this movie two nights ago, and I already remember almost nothing of it bar the funny bit I mentioned at the start, and the sight of Natasha Henstridge naked, which is exactly why Natasha Henstridge was cast in this movie. It’s really sad to think it’s taken almost a quarter century to bury this kind of lecherous gaze in mainstream movies (which this kind of was at the time), but dare I say the movie’s worst crime is to be so utterly forgettable. There are a couple of “oh, that guy!” performances in here (poor Zach Grenier, I’m looking at you), but it otherwise has a cast you have never heard of nor seen since.
And the script, ohhhhhh the script. From the bizarrely earnest to the earnestly bizarre, we run the gamut from “Parents always lie to their children, to prepare them for the way they will be treated later by the government,” to “You’ve gotten a lot harder since you’ve been away.”
Oh, and did I mention this was an action movie? I did, didn’t I, right at the start. Well it’s not. It lied. It has no action in it whatsoever, so I’m not sure if this is an action movie with no action, or everyone involved thought it was a thriller in which case it has no thrills. I think the latter might be true because this was apparently originally to be called “The Exchange” but that wasn’t deemed “Van Damme” enough of a title. Never mind that it made a lot more sense.
I don’t think one has to stretch one’s intellect all that much to see why Lam never did get to make his Face/Off (actually, we’ll talk about that more in a minute), though the misguided career opportunity afforded by Van Damme, which no doubt came from a genuine place, certainly explains how these two ended up in each other’s company so much over the coming years.
I see no reason to recommend anyone ever watching this movie.
In Replicant_ we are introduced to our boy JCVD playing a serial killer. Naughty boy. Edward “the Torch” Garrotte has been leaving a trail of incinerated mothers across Seattle, with the lead investigator, Michael Rooker’s Detective Jake Riley unable to capture him, although he comes close in the film’s kick off cross town chase. However, as he’s retiring (somewhat early, it seems, Rooker’s not that old) so he’s closing the book on it and going home to be a family man.
Garrotte, however, isn’t done with the detective, making threatening phone calls and generally being a bit of a nuisance, so when a shady and apparently institutionally insane government agency shows up offering him another chance to get his man, he accepts. In stark defiance of all science, logic and reason, they have grown a clone of Garotte as a prototype of a terrorist capturing system, as their totally-a-thing genetic memories can be used to track them down, once they have been reactivated by… well, lets not look for explanations that don’t exist, even in the film’s universe.
To be fair to Riley, his first thought – we know exactly what he looks like now, let’s plaster the city with mugshots – is a very reasonable one, however one that can’t be done for the reason that a film has to be perpetrated upon us. So, instead, Riley is given custody of the replicant Garrotte, who is a quick study of gymnastics but essentially has the mind of a child otherwise, to try to raise, I guess, with the hopes of prompting clues to the real Garrotte’s location. Oh, and they’re apparently psychically linked too, because, screw it, why not. I’m only disappointed that they didn’t give them lightsabers.
Listeners, at this point we’re twenty minutes into the film, into which it has packed an impressively dense amount of nonsense. I had perhaps been hoping this would escalate into another Double Team, of podcasts passim. Sadly, the film settles into a nice relaxing coma for the next hour with very little of interest happening, apart perhaps from a few scenes where an understandably stressed and confused Riley takes out his frustrations physically and verbally on Clone Garrotte, which comes across a lot like child abuse, or kicking a puppy.
It picks up a little in the final stretch, with a fight in a geriatric ward where they’re throwing old geezers in wheelchairs at each other in a pretty decent action sequence, but that’s very much too little too late after a flat middle that’s taking a stupid concept altogether too seriously. I can’t lay much of the blame at Van Damme or Rooker’s feet, or even Ringo Lam’s, who are all more or less doing as well as they can with the material available to them. Lawrence Riggins and Les Weldon’s script just isn’t up to snuff, with a premise that needs to be either much more, or much less ridiculous.
While, as you’ve probably gathered by now, I do not recommend you seek out Replicant, I also can’t bring myself to say that I hate it. It’s ultimately a bit too dull to have too strong an opinion on it, which I certainly wasn’t expecting after that opening salvo of silliness. Back down the memory hole you go, and I shall never think of you again, unless I revisit the vaguely similarly themed Jet Li vehicle Unleashed, or Danny the Dog in some parts of the world, which I recall being a great deal more fun than this.
Russia has an independence day. It’s the 12th of June, and was first observed in 1992. It “celebrates” the “””independence””” of Russia from the Soviet Union, as if one wasn’t a synecdoche for the other.
I mention this because a) it’s ridiculous (it’d be like the United Kingdom celebrating its independence from the British Empire), and b) learning this was the only point during Ringo Lam’s In Hell that I wasn’t bored, irritated, or both.
JCVD’s Kyle LeBlanc is an American (it’s so obvious!) working in Russia. His wife is murdered by a Russian mafioso, who is acquitted due to his family connections and influence, and an enraged LeBlanc then murders him outside of the courtroom after the trial. Despite the whole “powerful and untouchable mafia” thing, LeBlanc apparently need not fear any retribution, and indeed the whole “murdered a mafioso” plot point is never mentioned, nor, I suspect thought of, again by the three screenwriters (here seems an opportune moment to mention that this is the sole screenwriting credit of the three).
Instead, he is sent to a Russian prison, one where a curiously large number of the Russian guards and Russian prisoners are played by Latino and Italian actors, because, and I don’t know if you’ve guessed this yet, In Hell is a festering pile of crap. In said prison he makes fast enemies of Andrei, another mafioso, and befriends Chris Moir’s Billy, the subject of repeated rapings by Andrei.
A bunch of things then happen. Kyle is put into an extended stint in solitary confinement because… he fought back when attacked? Or didn’t fight back well enough? I’m really not clear on this at all. Then the film thinks it’s Rocky for a brief moment, and when he emerges Kyle is now a champion fighter, defeating, and killing, all and sundry in the prison’s regular fights. Until, that is, the ghost of his dead wife appears to him (who may or may not also be a possibly magical moth, because the film definitely thinks it’s The Lord of the Rings at one point, and I kept expecting Van Damme to be rescued from his cell by a giant eagle), said ghost telling him that he’s “lost himself”.
LeBlanc now refuses to fight, and inexplicably the corrupt prison authorities, who run the fights, decide that they can’t kill him because it will make him a martyr, despite the entire population clearly being certain to not give a shit, since they’re all murderers and Mafiosi. Except Billy, who is dead, and definitely had a character.
Kyle will, of course, fight again, but as part of an escape plan. But before that there is also an appearance by Chunk from The Goonies’ Russian cousin, because why the hell not? And just to complete the misery, the whole thing is narrated, for no apparent reason, by Kyle’s cellmate, who fancies himself a poet and philosopher, despite being a murderous psychopath who has offed several cellmates because they talked too much.
It is unrelentingly pish, a sad legacy indeed for Lam’s US sojourn, of which this was the last film, with the director next working on the considerably more successful Triangle, along with Tsui Hark and Johnnie To.
If In Hell has a redeeming feature then it’s that it manages to maintain this episode’s unexpected running theme of ”Jean-Claude Van Damme biting people during fights”. I really am scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but as I now remember that this particular chompy section led to the one time I laughed during this (thanks to Van Damme’s ludicrous post-prandial scream), then it was probably worth getting down on in there. Not that anything else was, alas. Avoid.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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