Upon first reflection, Second in Command felt like a breezy (albeit remarkably generic) bit of direct-to-video fare, suitable for a lazy Sunday. Then after careful consideration, it became clear that such a generous assessment was due simply to the fact that it was viewed in close proximity to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s previous film and benefited at the time from simply not being Wake of Death.
All of which to say, Second in Command is perhaps Van Damme’s most generic film made up to this point in his career.
Van Damme plays Navy SEAL Commander Sam Keenan. Upon arrival in the small but turbulent Eastern European nation of Moldavia, he’s named second in command to the United States ambassador. However, things go sideways fairly quickly once palace guards open fire (without valid authorization) on a group of protesters demanding the resignation of Moldavia’s President Amirev. With a resistance militia out for the president’s blood and American reinforcements still hours away, it’s up to Sam and a handful of jarhead Marines to safeguard Amirev and the American Embassy where he’s been stashed.
It’s a fairly standard siege movie but given that it clocks in at a breezy 90 minutes, you could do worse on a rainy afternoon if, say, you’re bound and determined to watch every JCVD movie under the sun. Sam has a low-key love interest to look after (Julie Cox as international news correspondent Michelle Whitman) and a by-the-book CIA bureaucrat (William Tapley) to deal with, in addition to the ruthless insurgent leader, Anton Tavarov (Velibor Topic), who’s knocking on the embassy door with gunfire and IEDs.
It feels a bit odd to say that a siege movie feels lighter on its feet and easier to watch than a revenge flick but here we are. That said, while Second in Command is at least marginally more enjoyable to watch than Wake of Death, it marks the first time so far in Van Damme’s career where it feels like he signed on simply for the work and not due to any particular element of the script. It’s wholly bereft of any of the thematic or narrative hooks that are typically threaded throughout nearly every other movie he’s ever made. At the very least, the lack of such thematic material helps drive an appreciation for his previous work.
That said, Second in Command could have been a crackerjack little potboiler if a more creative and inspired set of hands were at the wheel. This is essentially the same story told in the likes of Rio Bravo and Assault On Precinct 13, two phenomenal movies in their own right. But Second in Command guarantees that director Simon Fellows will never be mistaken for the likes of Howard Hawks or John Carpenter. (Not even the John Carpenter when he made Ghosts of Mars.) Fellows’ work isn’t incompetent. It’s just kind of … there. If you’ve seen just about any other DTV or otherwise generic action flick in the last decade, this will feel immediately familiar as its visual style is identical: washed out, dingy, lots of unnecessary editing. Keenan has a middling showdown with Tavarov during the climax but it’s over way too soon.
The script (credited to three different writers) also does Fellows no favors by refusing to engage in any sort of political intrigue beyond the perfunctory setup depicting national unrest and the implication that the United States installed the Amirev presidency. Anything resembling modern-day commentary is not even remotely on anyone’s mind here despite the relatively fertile ground. Incisive political commentary isn’t typically what one wants or expects out of a DTV action flick, but it certainly would have given a bit more of a reason for the film to exist.
Here’s hoping Van Damme and his directors find a bit more inspiration moving forward.
Van Dammage Report Statistics for Second in Command:
Number of splits: 0
Number of split kicks: 0
Reason for being European: Father was a Marine serving in Vietnam; his mother a member of the French diplomatic mission.
Best line: “The only anti-personnel ordinance we got is bad breath!” — Sgt. “Gunny” Darnell (Razaaq Doti).
Previously on the Van Dammage Report:
Wake of Death | In Hell | Derailed | The Order | Replicant | Desert Heat | Legionnaire | Knock Off | Double Team| Maximum Risk| The Quest | Sudden Death | Street Fighter | Timecop | Hard Target | Nowhere to Run | Universal Soldier | Double Impact | Death Warrant | Lionheart | Kickboxer | Cyborg | Bloodsport