25 March 2022

52 for '22: Double Team

Movie: Double Team (1997)
Method: Netflix Streaming

And to a lesser extent, the Van Dammes!

Why Did I Watch This?

Oof. I don't know. I saw that it starred Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman and was on Netflix and it was 96 minutes long. Simple as that. I had actually seen it a few weeks before when I was casually searching for good Van Damme movies to watch. Okay, Van Damme movies to watch. I had never heard of this and it felt like it had slipped under the cultural radar. So, here we go.

What Did I know about it?

Not really much of anything. This was operating at both peak Van Damme and peak Rodman. But I didn't know anyone else who was in it or what the plot could have possibly been. I mean, it was clearly stupid, and had some kind of buddy cop element, but very very little was in the hopper when I pressed play.

What Did I think?

This was certainly a movie. It was directed by Tsui Hark in his English language debut, and it feels like part of the attempt to bring the Hong Kong action wave over to the US that everyone went through in the 90s, with this and Rush Hour (1998) and John Woo films. Except Hark is not very good at all. Or at least a Hong Kong director directing a Belgian action star might have had some language barrier issues. Dennis Rodman doesn't help anything.

There are good things here. It is well-paced and there is a lot of stuff that continues happening. The opening scene is a fantastic chase in an armored vehicle and the amount of kicks that Van Damme does is reliably entertaining. And they let him square off against opponents who are equally good kickers and that's a fun challenge. The best may be when he's incarcerated and has to subsequently escape from the weird retired spy island, but more on that later.

Things keep moving, but it is excessively difficult to understand why or what anyone is trying to do in this movie. I've never seen a film like this where scenes just end and then another one begins with little to no editing or thematic transition. I was sitting here watching it the whole time, but there were moments, especially early on when they're trying to establish the plot where I had no idea if Van Damme was even the good guy or the bad guy. There is hardly anything that's ever concluded or leads into the next scene. This underlying incompetency really makes everything cool in this film difficult to follow.

But Dennis Rodman does play Dennis Rodman in this film. I found myself just thinking about when we blew off the Bulls in the middle of their second three-peat to party in Vegas for a weekend. I feel like he just flew to Europe sometime between training and filmed this. He's introduced relatively early on, but then leaves for the entire Secret Island sequence, to the extent that I was bummed out. I was promised a Van Damme / Rodman buddy cop picture, and dammit, that's what I was going to get! He's a glorified Q at the beginning. Only when Van Damme returns from the Secret Island does the buddy love really pick up, and those are some of the best moments in the movie, but it's really only the last third. Rodman earned a Razzie for his performance in this movie, but he's really just playing Rodman. His wardrobe is not changed at all, but his hair does in nearly every scene. I think they should have pushed this further and had his hair change colors in mid-conversation in the same scene.

This movie is basically three movies at once. After the initial scene where Van Damme fails to apprehend Mickey Rourke, he just retires, and then three years later is brought out of retirement to assassinate Mickey Rourke at a very crowded amusement park. Parts of this felt downright MacGruber (2010)-esque, as Van Damme is clearly the bad guy here, who kills his opponent's wife and child and gives him all of his motivation for revenge.

So, after he fails because he got blown up by grenades (by the way, the grenade explosions in this movie are all the biggest explosions of all time. Grenades are like, dangerous but will not destroy an entire in-ground swimming pool!), Van Damme is sentenced to a Secret Island where old spies go who have failed too many missions. Belloq is there, which is fun. He seems nice, but he isn't! No, he definitely is. There are some cool bits here, where it really feels like they are in the future or something. They might be. But Van Damme has to check in with a thumb print every so often or nerve gas will be deployed in his room. That doesn't seem to be that big of a deal if he's not also in the room, but whatever. I guess they'll hunt him down or something.

The best scene in the movie his his escape, where he slices off his thumbprint to fool the machine and then straps his way onto a cargo plane to escape. I don't know what Cargo was moving off the island, but whatever. This was Uncharted (2022) before it was cool. All this stuff is then just dropped until the end of the movie when Belloq shows up again to kill Van Damme, but definitely just laughs around with Dennis Rodman and then the movie ends. It's absolutely bizarre. You really feel like you missed something.

So, the last third features the ultimate team-up, finally! I mean, this movie is called Double Team for fuck's sake. They travel around Europe trying to find Mickey Rourke, who definitely just lays traps for them. They end up at the Roman Colosseum, which is definitely not the actual Colosseum, but Mickey Rourke has Van Damme's newly born baby in a ring with mines and a tiger! His wife is okay, but should have figured something was weird when they wheeled her into the Colosseum to give birth.

In the end, Mickey Rourke steps on a mine and gets eaten by a tiger. All I could think of where his final thoughts, which definitely had to be something like "I really wish I hadn't brought all these mines and tigers here." The baby is okay and like I said, Van Damme sort of just drives away while Belloq laughs after failing to kill him.

I mean, this movie is weird. This movie is really weird. It just doesn't really make sense, although it's entertaining and creative. The CGI is late 90s bad and there is an extremely high amount of Dutch angles for no reason. Like a Battlefield Earth (2000)-level amount. Van Damme is still great at kicking people and it's generally fun. But it's really not very good by any stretch of the imagination. Still, the Rodman novelty, especially knowing he was in between NBA Championships is spectacular.

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