There’s nothing quite like Double Team, a film that at times feels like a fever dream given physical form.
This marks the third film of Van Damme’s career which paired him up with a major director from Hong Kong cinema. Hard Target (with John Woo) and Maximum Risk (with Ringo Lam) are two of his best films. And while this wouldn’t even rank among his top five best, it still holds a pretty special place among the rest thanks to the unique stamp director Tsui Hark paces on the film. None of the major action stars from the 80s and 90s (save for Schwarzenegger) were known for collaborating with directors of a high profile, so the fact that Van Damme found himself in front of the camera of some of China’s most significant action filmmakers puts him in pretty exclusive company among his peers. And while its inarguable that their collaborations with Van Damme aren’t among the top tier of each director’s work (no sane person would ever claim Hard Target to be a better John Woo movie than The Killer, for instance), the results are undeniably fun in their own right.
That said, there are times when Double Team feels more like a parody of a film than something that was actually produced and legitimately screened for the average moviegoer. Within a filmography that contains a not insignificant number of ridiculous films, Double Team stands out among the rest. How you respond to a statement like that may be the purest indicator of how much (and on what level) you enjoy and appreciate the films of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Even its Hark-directed follow-up, Knock Off, (which is basically wall-to-wall absurdity from start to finish) never quite hits some of the more surreal beats that Double Team lands more or less on a regular basis.
Van Damme plays Jack Quinn, an elite counter-terrorism agent and, naturally, the only man who knows the nefarious terrorist Stavros (Mickey Rourke) well enough to take him down. Jack is perfectly happy in his state of retirement relaxing by the pool, being confounded by his wife’s art and awaiting the birth of his son. But the allure of taking down the elusive Stavros once and for all is too appealing for Jack to let the opportunity pass. But when the terrorist mastermind exploits Jack’s compassion and puts his own son in front of the crosshair, Jack’s hesitation is all Stavros needs to ultimately escape. With Stavros on the run and his mission failed, the agency forces Jack into retirement by faking his death and sending him to The Colony, a super-secret retirement home for ex-special agents. Located on a secluded, heavily secured island where he’s forced to analyze terrorist activity for still-active agents, Jack stages an elaborate and daring escape so he can track down and finally kill the man who’s taken everything from him.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? While it’s unfortunate that a cool idea like The Colony isn’t really fleshed out to its maximum potential (it’s the sort of concept that practically begs for its own movie), most of that sounds like a fairly standard flick. But as always, the devil is in the details and it’s the execution in particular that really sets this apart from almost anything else we’ve (before or since) seen from the Muscles From Brussels. Where else are you going to find an explosive shootout and fistfight inside a maternity ward? What other movie will deliver a climax featuring Van Damme v Rourke v Bengal tiger atop a minefield inside a Roman coliseum? Do you find yourself wishing JCVD and Dennis Rodman would ever need the use of a basketball parachute? Have you ever wanted a Coke machine to save the day? Boy has Tsui Hark got the movie for you.
If nothing else, Double Team continues the trend of Hong Kong directors delivering some of Van Damme’s best action scenes. Like Ringo Lam delivered in Maximum Risk, there’s a fluidity and agility and dynamism to Van Damme that Hark captures here that simply isn’t replicated by other filmmakers. There are moves JCVD pulls off here you won’t find anywhere else in his canon of films, as well as fights that are unlike anything else he’s been in. Check out the hotel room brawl against a thug who wields a knife with his foot to see what I mean.
That said, the madness of Double Team never really stops, as it swings from the beats and bits expected from a Hong Kong action film to the more surreal elements peppered throughout. Much of that surreality is courtesy of Rodman (playing Yaz, an underground arms dealer), who sticks out like a sore thumb thanks to his wild wardrobe choices and the fact that about half his lines are basketball-related jokes or puns. (And half of those are inserted via ADR as you won’t even see him say them, merely recited either off-camera or with his back turned, as if Hark watched an assembly cut of the film and decided that such too few basketball buns simply would not stand.) Rodman is surprisingly capable and almost even graceful in the few instances he engages in hand-to-hand combat, but there’s still nothing quite like watching this gangly, lumbering cartoon plow his way through each of his scenes.
Van Damme delivers the sort of intense, sweaty performance you’d expect in a revenge flick of this sort. He gets his own ridiculous costume to jaunt around in for a bit and even trades a few one-liners with Rodman further proving he’s got better comedy skills than most accredit to him, but overall this one doesn’t really ask much of him beyond the physicality of the part which he, as stated earlier, handles quite well. The same goes for Rourke, who is given very little to do save as Stavros save for taunting his nemesis and trading some harsh blows when the action heats up.
This is a fun movie. It’s the kind of movie that most will point at and laugh, and from the outside looking in it’s difficult not to. But given that I have little doubt the director himself intended this to be a hair’s breadth away from a full-blown comedy, laughing along with it is probably the best thing you can do.
Van Dammage Report statistics for Double Team:
Number of splits: 2
Number of splitkicks: 1
Best line: Jack remarking on one of Yaz’s ridiculous outfits: “You look like a carrot with earrings!”
Previously on the Van Dammage Report:
Maximum Risk | The Quest | Sudden Death | Street Fighter | Timecop | Hard Target | Nowhere to Run | Universal Soldier | Double Impact | Death Warrant | Lionheart | Kickboxer | Cyborg | Bloodsport