Director: Hark Tsui
Writers: Don Jakoby, Paul Mones
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke, Paul Freeman, Natacha Lindinger, Valéria Cavalli, Jay Benedict, Joëlle Devaux-Vullion, Bruno Bilotta, Mario Opinato, Grant Russell, William Dunn, Asher Tzarfati, Rob Diem
18 | 93 min | Action |
Budget: $30,000,000 (estimated)
By 1997 the Buddy Action Movie had become so diluted it had begun to resemble a thin, tasteless gruel.
Gone were the aromatic days of Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, of Riggs and Murtaugh, of John McClane and the black cop from Die Hard whose name I can never remember. Unconcerned with onscreen chemistry, relatable characterisation, and the kind of wry, acerbic wit that made the genre so successful, money-obsessed producers had begun to overlook traditional recipes in favour of flavour of the month celebrities, throwing a couple of seemingly opposed ingredients together with the meagre assumption that something would stick.
With Van Damme and Rodman, Mandalay Entertainment served up a big steaming pile of crap – the culinary equivalent of lamb rogan josh with squid ink pasta, complemented by a liver and ice cream screenplay of blandly churned quips. It was a combination that proved that odd couples aren’t always funny together – at least not intentionally.
That being said, the action sequences in Double Team are delightfully over-the-top, Van Damme offering up his usual repertoire of bendy action gymnastics, while Chinese director Hark Tsui oversees proceedings with the frenetic energy of John Woo, placing his protagonist in a fairground shootout, a mine-filled Roman Colosseum, and a grenade battle in a maternity ward full of babies.
For once in his extensively lowbrow career, B-movie stalwart Van Damme proves to be the saving grace here. Off the back of mainstream successes such as Timecop and Hard Target ‘The Muscles from Brussels’ had accumulated something of a rep by the time his 18th action movie extravaganza hit the screens, and you could always count on him to ably and creatively dispose of a few bumbling extras, if nothing else.
Rodman himself was a whole different prospect. By the mid-nineties the ex-basketball star was everywhere. If he wasn’t whoring his sexual ambiguities with main squeeze Madonna, he was becoming the first non-wrestler to ever hold an established world title, an event perceived by hardcore fans as the industry’s lowest ebb. Exhibiting his peculiar fashion ensembles to anyone who would give him the time of day, Rodman was like herpes: thriving on promiscuity with a relentless intent to spread from one mouth to the next. He was also a terrible actor.
The movie’s plot is a moralistic absurdity, with sentiments so detached from humanity that it could only have worked with a cast this insipid and averse to drama. Ex- counter-terrorist operative Jack Quinn (Van Damme) is frolicking by the pool in his Calvins when coaxed out of retirement in order to finally rid the planet of super-villain Stavros (Rourke). Stavros is the world’s most wanted terrorist, a man who spends his time walking coolly away from catastrophic explosions while lighting victory cigars.
Predictably, the government’s plan goes tits-up when their team accidentally kills the bad guy’s kid, and failure Jack is shipped off to a secret island known as The Colony, where those who are ‘too valuable to kill and too dangerous to set free’ are tasked with intercepting global terrorism with the aid of some rather dubious virtual reality equipment. Jack’s pregnant wife Katherine (Lindinger) is told that her husband was killed, as nobody can ever find out about the colony, an inescapable stronghold surrounded by an ocean of underwater lasers.
Meanwhile, small-time artist Katherine is suddenly invited to exhibit her work at a world-famous gallery in Rome, an unfathomable offer that leaves her neither surprised nor suspicious, and soon she is jetting off on the journey of a lifetime with her dead husband suddenly a distant memory. There, she is kidnapped by the maniacal Starvos, who plans to oversee her child’s birth before exacting his revenge in the most repugnant eye-for-an-eye fashion imaginable. The industrious villain also manages to alert our protagonist to his plans via a graffitied message, which in a quite incredible feat of strategized convenience manages to reach our isolated hero and precipitate his escape.
Using his years of CIA experience, Jack manages the previously impossible, using a contraption made from a pencil, an eraser and a Coke can to escape from the building, before hanging from the back of a cargo aircraft at 40,000 ft and flying to safety. It might also interest you that this is neither the first nor last appearance of monster brand Coca-Cola, whose unabashed product placement is sometimes more important than the action, and in some scenes even determines it.
In order to save his wife from the evil intentions of Stavros, Jack then recruits the help of relative stranger Yazz (Rodman), a cross-dressing arms dealer who conveniently stores half of the world’s weapons in a secret room in his covert nightclub. This is a man who designs earring explosives and somehow manages to change his outfit in every scene, in spite of the fact that he and Jack must adhere to a strict deadline if the latter is ever to see his wife and child again.
Jack and Yazz then recruit the help of underground terrorist group the Cyber Monks, an actual team of Roman holies who dish out trite American buzz words and touch fists, taking a break from downloading porn to establish the exact location of Jack’s newborn baby.
That location happens to be perhaps the most valuable and historically relevant artefact in the world: the Roman Colosseum, which Stravros somehow manages to infiltrate and fill with mines. Compared with this needlessly elaborate plan, his conditions are simple enough: if Jack lives he’ll get to know his son the way he once did, if not he will raise the baby as his own. If you hate spoilers and are still unsure as to the eventual outcome, I suggest you skip the Best Kill section. However, if you have ever seen an action movie in your life, feel free to read on. Movies of this ilk offer very little in the way of surprises.
With his foot placed precariously on one of an entire arena of mines, Stravros is attacked by a randomly roaming tiger, which somehow manages to evade the hundreds of explosives in its path before pouncing and blowing the entire Roman Colosseum to smithereens. The historic building’s head of security is likely to pay for that one!
Most Absurd Moment
After fleeing the exploding Colosseum, Jack and Yazz shield themselves and Jack’s baby from the engulfing flames, taking refuge behind a Coke machine while another dozen Coke machines hurtle towards them. Coke – Taste the Feeling!
Most Absurd Dialogue
From a whole host of cheap basketball puns, this motivational speech is perhaps the most trite and humourless:
Yazz: ‘You always play defence. Right, it’s time to get off the bench. The best defence is a strong offence.’
There’s enough here to keep one chuckling inanely: two parachutes combining mid- air to become a giant basketball, a knife fight using only feet, and Van Damme tripping on a whole bunch of Coke cans just to hammer the point home one last time. In the end however, Double Team falls short of bad movie gold. In fact, I probably would have given the movie three tapes if it were not for the Coke machine scene, but as you can see from the clip below, its sheer audacity deserves a tape all of its own…