Van Dammage Report: Double Impact

Double Impact Van Damme

Now this is more like it.

Cyborg’s garishness aside, the majority of Van Damme’s films thus far have been low-key affairs, largely focused on his prowess as a martial artist.

That all begins to change with his 1991 film, Double Impact.

There’s a good bit of martial arts, certainly. This is a Van Damme movie, after all. But there’s a much bigger emphasis on guns and explosions this time than we’ve seen previously. Thankfully, Van Damme takes such a mixture in fine fashion, even if there isn’t as much fisticuffs in Double Impact as one might hope.

Coming off the drab and disappointingly vanilla Death Warrant, though, Double Impact feels like a breath of fresh air. This has no glaring tonal inconsistencies and the action quotient is significantly higher. Oh, and it marks the first of several times that Van Damme would play his own double/twin/clone. I don’t know that there’s another action hero who has played a copy of himself more times than Van Damme, something that made me quite sad to discover that Sylvester Stallone didn’t write him into The Expendables 3 as Claude Vilain, twin brother of the previous film’s lead villain, Jean.

Here, he plays both Alex and Chad Wagner, twin brothers separated at birth after a corrupt British businessman and a Chinese Triad leader kills their parents in order to retain profitable control over a freshly constructed tunnel in mainland China. Alex was raised by French nuns in Hong Kong, while their father’s former body guard, Frank (Geoffrey Lewis), took Chad to Los Angeles. (But only after hiding out and raising the boy in France. Got to make sure there’s a reason both brothers sound European, you see.)

Alex became a low-level criminal, selling cigarettes and imported luxury cars on the black market, while Chad helped run “Uncle” Frank’s martial arts school. Frank, however, was always determined to make sure that the boys were reunited and became rightful heirs to the fortune their father would have left them. So when he finally tracks down Alex, Frank drags Chad to China in the hopes that he can find a way to set things right.

Apparently setting things right includes gunfights and kicks to the face. And sometimes those things are even aimed at the bad guys.

Van Damme reteams with his Lionheart director (and Bloodsport co-writer) Sheldon Lettich, a partnership that would extend for several more films. Lettich handles things decently enough, even if he tries a bit too hard to ape from John Woo. Though A Better Tomorrow II and The Killer had just showed up and blown people’s minds recently, so who can blame him?

The real treat here is watching Van Damme play brothers with wildly different personalities. The film pre-dates the term “metrosexual” by about three or four years, but that’s about the only way to describe Chad. He shows up to Hong Kong wearing a sea-foam green Polo shirt and salmon-colored short shorts. He spends more time showing off his ability to do splits for the women in his aerobics class than he spends actually instructing.

Alex, on the other hand, is a greaseball, cigar-chomping wannabe gangster who also has raging jealousy issues. In one of the film’s most unintentionally hilarious scenes, Alex drunkenly (and very vividly) dreams up a scenario where his girlfriend has sex with Chad, leading to a full-on brawl between the brothers later. He’s surly and prickly and has little desire to make any sort of connection with his brother.

These aren’t difficult or complex roles by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s a sort of Jekyll and Hyde quality to the characters that makes them a lot of fun to watch and bounce off each other. Doing the whole “playing twins” thing can’t be easy, but Van Damme actually pulls it off in a very entertaining fashion, even getting in a pretty lengthy brawl with himself. My only complaint is that at no point do the brothers team up and do simultaneous split kicks on a bad guy.

Speaking of bad guys, the villains are forgettable and wholly cliche, but we at least get an on-screen reunion between Van Damme and Bloodsport‘s Bolo Yeung. As with Chong Li, Yeung once again plays a mute villain, and, despite being the one to shotgun down Alex and Chad’s dad in the prologue, his character, Moon, has little do. We do at least get a decent fight between he and Chad, though it pales in comparison to their throwdown in Bloodsport.

If nothing else, Double Impact marks a notable turning point in JCVD’s career as he transitions from an eager martial artist into a true international movie star. He shows more range in one film than some action stars do in their entire career and it shows he’s not afraid to be a little weird, a quality that will serve him quite well in later films.

Van Dammage Report Statistics for Double Impact:

Number of splits: 1

Number of split kicks: 3

Reason for being European: Chad was raised in France. Alex was raised by French nuns.

Best line: “You want some advice? Take your fancy clothes and your black silk underwear and go back to … Disneyland!”  — Alex to Chad and Frank upon their arrival in Hong Kong.

Next up: Van Damme’s first real blockbuster film, Universal Soldier.

Previously on the Van Dammage Report:
Death WarrantLionheartKickboxerCyborgBloodsport.