Returning to the Belgian well of full contact face displacement we are here to preach to you, once again, the gospel of Van Damme, because apparently he’s our mascot or something. Celebrating the only decade coke-fuelled enough to afford me the opportunity to complete the following sentence, we have a trio of 90s curios for you this episode, including two efforts from Hong Kong maestro Hark Tsui, an appearance by non-hexadecimal basketball character Dennis Rodman, and a fight to the death with a penguin called Pete. Don’t delay, get your incredibly violent pick ‘n’ mix today!
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.
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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