Van Dammage Report: The Order

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Have you ever found yourself wishing you could watch a movie wherein Jean-Claude Van Damme has a foot chase through the streets of Old Jerusalem whilst disguised as a Hasidic Jew and which also co-stars Charlton Heston? If you answered “yes” then boy are you in luck.

There’s almost nothing like The Order among Van Damme’s oeuvre. It’s a sweeping, globe-trotting adventure that’s often light on its feet and, save for the climactic finale, never really takes itself too seriously. Only The Quest comes close, but even it never quite matches what Van Damme and his longtime collaborator Sheldon Lettich (who once again directs) deliver here.

The film opens in 1099 as Christian Crusaders raid and sack Jerusalem, leaving chaos, death and destruction in their wake. Among the Crusaders left standing when the dust settles is a French knight, Charles Le Vaillant (Van Damme) who becomes disgusted by the violence in which he participated. He decides to found a new religion, one that welcomes and brings together members of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. After decades of leading his disciples, the Christian Church deems Le Vaillant a heretic and he is thusly killed by the very soldiers he once led.

Centuries later, international cat burglar Rudy Cafmeyer (Van Damme) must travel to the Holy Land to search for his missing father, an expert on the lost teachings of Le Vaillant. It seems Ozzie Cafmeyer was on the verge of discovering a massive, mythical treasure hidden by the original members of The Order, and the sect’s corrupt, sneeringly villainous new leader, Cyrus (Brian Thompson), is doing everything he can to get his hands on it.

Once Rudy sets foot in Israel, Charlton Heston shows up in an all-too-brief cameo to help Rudy in his search. I’d mention the character’s name but let’s be real here, he’s not playing a character. The result is the same as if Heston had simply walked onto the set and begun interacting with Van Damme in the scene.

Perhaps there simply wasn’t room for more of Heston here. The film mostly concerns itself with getting Van Damme from Point A to Point B and having a snarky, cranky old man sidekick just wouldn’t fit. Instead Van Damme has Dalia (Sofia Milos), a snarky, cranky and beautiful Israeli cop sidekick who risks her career to help Rudy uncover what’s really going on. (Spoilers: Cyrus doesn’t care about the treasure, he just wants to try and start World War 3.)

What sets The Order apart from most of Van Damme’s filmography is tone. Despite some on-screen villainy (of the mustache-twirling variety) and the rather abrupt manner in which Heston exits, there’s a surprising lightness overall to The Order. It never dives into outright comedy, although there are plenty of laughs to be had. Van Damme’s declaration of “I farted” during the opening heist gets a great guffaw, and our hero delivers one of his most delightfully cheesy one-liners ever during the climax. The majority of the film, however, strives to be a rollicking adventure in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark or, perhaps more appropriately, Stephen Sommers’ remake of The Mummy, which released just two years prior. The budget doesn’t allow for something even on the level of The Mummy, but it’s clear where Van Damme and Lettich’s heart is to be found.

If nothing else, The Order simply shines more light on the kind of star and, perhaps more importantly, filmmaker Van Damme desired to be. This was, at the time, his third screenwriting credit and the fourth time he had collaborated with Lettich in crafting a story. When given the chance, Van Damme aims to tell stories with sweep and an old-school feel. He wanted exotic locations and sought to involve actors from classic films he loved (i.e. Heston and Roger Moore). There’s a very visible desire to bring himself as close to the Golden Age of Hollywood as could be fit within the modest budgets his films were assigned. Try and say that about most or even any of his peers.

The Order also further shows that of all the directors with whom Van Damme has had multiple collaborations, it is Lettich who perhaps best understands him and how to bring out the actor’s strengths. His multiple times at-bat with Ringo Lam or Tsui Hark remain some of Van Damme’s most electric films, but there’s a certain quality that Lettich evokes from the actor which feels unique to their collaborations. There is an ease with which the two are able to work that shines through on-screen.

The Order falls short. Its budget simply isn’t big enough to compensate for the sweep and scope Van Damme and Lettich clearly wish they could achieve, and the final fight is a fairly tepid sword fight instead of the brawl one would expect when Brian Thompson is cast as lead villain. But overall this is a film with its heart firmly in the right place and that alone is enough to make it worthwhile.

Van Dammage Report Statistics for The Order:

Number of splits: 0

Number of split kicks: 2

Reason for being European: None given

Best line: “Shalom.” — Rudy, right before kicking a bad guy down into a bottomless pit.

Previously on the Van Dammage Report:
ReplicantDesert HeatLegionnaireKnock OffDouble TeamMaximum RiskThe QuestSudden Death | Street Fighter | Timecop | Hard Target | Nowhere to Run | Universal Soldier | Double Impact | Death Warrant | Lionheart | Kickboxer | Cyborg | Bloodsport