Last of the Monster Kids

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Monday, July 10, 2017

JCVD-A-THON: Knock Off (1998)

In 1997, Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in “Double Team,” a film directed by legendary Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark. That motion picture was completely insane, received some of the worst reviews of Van Damme's career, and flopped extremely hard. Instead of running away from this failure, Van Damme immediately re-teamed with Hark. I don't know, maybe he had a contract to fulfill or something. Their second film together was “Knock Off,” which also received terrible reviews and flopped equally as hard at the box office. The film is also insane, though admittedly only a quarter as nuts as “Double Team.” Van Damme claims he was so high at the time that he barely remembers making it. If everyone involved in “Knock Off's” production was also as high as a kite, it would certainly explain a lot.

“Knock Off” is another action movie set in 1997, against the backdrop of Hong Kong reverting back to Chinese rule. Weirdly, this doesn't play much of a role in the plot. Instead, the story revolves around Marcus Ray and Tommy Hendricks, managers of a blue jean factory. Ray is getting involved in knock off goods, while Tommy is actually an undercover CIA agent sent to investigate the counterfeit trade. The two stumble upon a plot by unknown terrorists to smuggle nano-bombs – explosives the size of buttons that are more powerful than dynamite – into goods all over the world. Once the bombs are in place, they'll hold the globe hostage. Ray and Tommy have to figure out whose responsible and save the world.

As I said, “Knock Off” is nuttier than George Washington Carver's science experiments. One of the earliest scenes in the movie features Van Damme and Rob Schneider participating in a rickshaw race, with Jean-Claude pulling the cart. Midway through the race, they crash through a fish market. Schneider grabs a eel and begins to whip Van Damme's ass with it. That's just the beginning. “Knock Off” features spiny fruits being used as weapons, missiles hidden inside vaults, and a building shaped like a Buddha statue which then explodes in a green cloud. List of unlikely objects that also explode over the course of the film's run time: A pizza truck, an Asian man, baby dolls, and a toy T-Rex. The film tries to mine Van Damme stripping out of his clothes for suspense. It doesn't quite top the utter madness of “Double Team” but it comes awfully close.

Tsui Hark's direction is equally mad. Hark's camera zooms inside multiple objects, like a falling apart bootleg sneaker, a bamboo stalk, a rifle scope, in-between paintings, and a hundred other things. Sometimes, “Knock Off” is so frenetic that the afterimages appear around the characters, Hark's imagination apparently moving faster than his camera. Likewise, “Knock Off” features some creatively choreographed action. Van Damme runs along an overturned van, tossing cans at his enemies. He fights his way out of a crowded warehouse, eventually flipping onto a motorcycle. Fights in a parking garage or office focus more on Van Damme and his opponent tumbling over each other. In the last act, the star is caught between sliding and swinging shipping containers, juggling other fighters atop the platforms. It's amazingly original action.

As I mentioned above, “Knock Off” co-stars Rob Schneider. This was Schneider second turn as a comic relief sidekick in a goofy nineties action movie, following his similar role in “Judge Dredd.” Schneider is annoying on the best of days but his schtick blends surprisingly well with “Knock Off's” manic tone. Scenes where he is nearly seduced by his boss or complains about those spiny fruits are kind of funny. Moreover, Schneider actually has some decent chemistry with Van Damme. The two play off each other well. This is most obvious in a scene where they trade food at a restaurant while Van Damme ruins Schneider's shirts with gratuitous flexing. Van Damme might have been high the whole time but he seems to be having fun. That positive energy rubs off on Schneider, accomplishing the impossible and making him entertaining too.

“Knock Off's” cast is fun in general. Lela Rochon – who also had an uncredited part in “Breakin',” it turns out – appears as Ray and Tommy's boss. She starts out as another sassy black woman but eventually develops a stronger streak. She even gets in on the action at the end, machine gunning some bad guys. (That doesn't make up for the embarrassing way the camera drools over her though.) Michael Wong appears as a Hong Kong detective working the case alongside our heroes. Wong projects an easy-going charm that is works well inside a movie this goofy. Paul Sorvino shows up as the shifty CIA agent who eventually reveals himself to be not so trustworthy. Sorvino is clearly enjoying himself in the part.

“Knock Off” does not have the immediate cult appeal of “Double Team,” strictly because it doesn't have Dennis Rodman cracking basketball puns or Mickey Rourke fighting a tiger. However, the film is indeed crazy enough to be an absolutely gleeful viewing experience. The action scenes are fantastically orchestrated and the rest of the movie is unforgettably bonkers. I mean, shit, they even got Sparks to sing the theme song! The two films Van Damme made with Tsui Hark might not have been popular at the box office but, watched years later in the comfort of your own home, they more than satisfy. [7/10]

[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 5 outta 5]
[X] An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt*
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[X] Dancing
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick

*He fights an outboard boat motor. I'll count it.

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