Double Team

Two On One

The latest in a series of Jean-Claude Van Damme action films that puts a slight twist on the usual bullets-and-badmen formula. This time the main gimmick – and the focus of all publicity – is the feature film debut of eccentric professional basketball player Dennis Rodman, who essays the role of an eccentric arms dealer with a strange penchant for making basketball jokes. Thus, modern journalism being what it is, most of the critical attention drawn by this film has really been a critique of Rodman’s acting ability (or lack of same). In truth, Rodman’s purpose in the film is to provide some color to the film at a point when it could really use some.

Expanding on the European flavor and setting of his previous film (the equally ill-titled Maximum Risk), Van Damme actually gets a part where they don’t have to explain away his accent. Here he plays an anti-terrorism expert secret agent who, upon failing to catch evil mercenary Mickey Roarke, is sent to The Colony – a “retirement” village for secret agents which should be familiar to fans of the old TV series The Prisoner (the main difference here is that Colony residents are still expected to work as a top secret think tank advising on terrorist incidents). Understandably miffed, J-C becomes extra anxious to escape when Roarke – who blames our hero for the deaths of his family – begins to make coded threats against his wife and unborn son. After making a quite daring escape, Van Damme looks up Rodman for help. They form a quick bond with each other (thus giving the film some reason for the otherwise ill-fitting title), and proceed to hunt down the wily Roarke and save the day.

Forget Rodman, who is serviceable at best and only intelligible due to careful dubbing. What makes Double Team significant is the fact that it continues Van Damme’s trend of recruiting directors from the vital ranks of Hong Kong cinema. Just as the German masters fled the Nazis to forever change the face of American cinema in the 1930s, the Chinese invasion of the ’90s has the potential to transform the Hollywood films of the next century. This time the director is the prolific and multi-talented Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark, who was responsible for the hit Once Upon a Time in China and Chinese Ghost Story series, as well as having a hand in most of what is thought of as innovative modern HK film. Though some of Tsui’s work has suffered from derivative repetition of late, his opportunity to work in an Anglo environment seems to have energized him, and Double Team benefits from his enthusiasm with a slick look and dynamic camerawork. Also, Tsui has been able to use a lot of his own people, and much of the excitement in the film can be directly attributed to the work of fight choreographer Xin Xin Xiong, who shows up to wreck a Rome hotel room in an explosive battle ballet with Van Damme late in the film.

Although I believe he’s grown as an actor and I’d like to see him try his hand at a supporting role in a straight drama sometime soon, for the time being Jean-Claude Van Damme continues to mine a rich vein of entertaining, above average but relatively unambitious action romps. Bang for the buck is what they’re all about, and Double Team delivers the goods.

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