Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tsui Hark
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke, Paul Freeman, Natacha Lindinger, Jay Benedict, Rob Diem
Running Time: 93 minutes.
One of the oddest couples ever teamed for a big budget Hollywood action movie would have to be Jean-Claude Van Damme, the “muscles from Brussels”, and Dennis Rodman, the flamboyant and controversial basketball player whose life style has become tabloid fodder.
Van Damme plays Jack Quinn, a top counter-terrorist whose usefulness comes to an abrupt end when he fails to stop Stavros (Mickey Rourke, from Angel Heart, etc), one of the world’s most notorious terrorists and drug dealers. Quinn is banished to the Colony, a remote and uncharted island that is a high-tech think tank for ex-spies. No-one has escaped from the island and anyone who tries is executed by their unknown “guardian.” There is a potentially decent film to be made from this element of the film alone, but writers Don Jakoby (Arachnophobia, etc) and Paul Mones (Fathers And Sons) squander any opportunity to explore this idea further.
When Quinn discovers that Stavros has targeted his wife and unborn son, he figures out a way to escape and go after him. Quinn enlists the help of weapons dealer Yaz (Rodman) in tracking down Stavros. Antwerp and the streets of Rome are the settings for their private battleground, marked by blood and wanton carnage. The film climaxes in a pretentious and comically ludicrous gladiatorial contest inside the Coliseum, in which Quinn faces Stavros, snipers, a Bengal tiger and land mines. Performances are secondary to a film of this nature, and Van Damme does his usual stoic heroic bit in a tailor-made role. Despite a couple of recent quality collaborations with Peter Hyams, Van Damme’s film career has been on a downward spiral lately with a couple of second rate action thrillers, and the disappointing Double Team is unlikely to arrest the slide. Rodman essentially plays himself, bringing a touch of humour to the violence, and note how his hair style seems to change with virtually every scene! As the international villain of the piece, a beefed up Rourke delivers a rather comical and stereotyped performance. Rourke’s film career has all but disappeared with a succession of straight to video turkeys, although his role here marks a positive turn around. An appearance opposite Van Damme means that more people will probably see his work here than they have in his last half dozen films combined!
Van Damme continues his fascination with championing Hong Kong film makers in Hollywood, by working with Tsui Hark, one of Hong Kong’s foremost action directors who has built a formidable reputation with films such as A Chinese Ghost Story II, etc. This is essentially rather violent comic book stuff, but Hark brings a distinctive visual sensibility to his American debut, choreographing the numerous action sequences in a fluid style that is unusual for a mainstream action film. He has stamped the rather clichéd material with lots of stylistic tricks learned from years of making martial arts action films, and eventually reshaped it to suit his own kinetic approach to filming bruising action sequences. Veteran Hong Kong cinematographer Peter Pau employs an extremely mobile camera technique that whirls in and around the action at a dizzying pace. Eventually though, his visual style only detracts from the suspense and element of heart stopping danger that is vital to any film in this genre.
Double Team features some of the most blatant, shoddy and gratuitous product placement seen for quite some time, with Coca-Cola and Omega being the main opportunists and chief offenders. When the coliseum finally erupts in a devastating fireball, our heroes are saved by hiding behind a Coke vending machine! Like most action junkies, I like my action delivered fast and hard, with generous dollops of violence, but I prefer it to be done with at least a modicum of intelligence and credibility. Unfortunately, Double Team seems to be lacking in these latter two ingredients and ultimately sets a new benchmark for dumb action movies.