Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

JCVD-A-THON: Maximum Risk (1996)

Something Jean-Claude Van Damme wouldn't get much credit for, at the time anyway, was his willingness to collaborate with filmmakers from around the world. After bringing John Woo to America with “Hard Target,” “Maximum Risk” would pair the actor with director Ringo Lam. In Hong Kong, Lam was famous for hard-hitting crime films like “Full Contact” and “City in Fire.” It would be the first of three films the two would work on together. “Maximum Risk” was Van Damme's second film released in 1996, after his underwhelming directorial debut, “The Quest.” The film did poorly domestically but was a sizable hit overseas.

Following a car chase through the streets of Paris, a man ends up dead. And he has Alain Moreau's face. A former soldier and current cop, Alain is shocked to see a dead man who looks just like him. Soon, he discovers that the man was his twin brother, separated at birth. Alain's twin, Mikhail, was a Russian gangster. Traveling to New York, to Mikhail's old hideout, Alain learns that his brother was into some bad shit. His fellow gangsters and a pair of FBI agents wanted him dead. Now they're after Alain.

Van Damme's fascination with playing his own twin or double continues in “Maximum Risk.” Beginning the movie by killing off one of the Van Damme, before you know there's another, was almost certainly a deliberate subversion of audience expectations. The actor's first scene after that takes place at a funeral. Van Damme's character remains in a somber mood throughout the rest of the film. Alain Moreau is a pretty serious guy and he sees the story as a chance to reconnect with the brother he never knew he had. This general solemnity transfers over to the movie's romance. Naturally, Mikhail's girlfriend, Alex, mistakes Alain for him. He rejects the romance at first but they end up getting intimate eventually. Van Damme has some alright chemistry with Natasha Henstridge, who is playing a thankless part.

Van Damme's performance may be rather grim but it's solid. His confusion seems genuine, pairing with the actor's innate charm. Maybe the filmmakers wanted to make sure the audience where as confused as Alain. “Maximum Risk's” plot is somewhat hard to follow. The script is full of double-crosses. It seems like everyone, except for Alain and Alex, have agendas of his own. What is the Russian mob up to? How to the dirty FBI agents fit in? The twists and turns pile up until the start of the third act, where a recording of Mikhail – Van Damme doing a less than convincing Russian accent – basically explains what is happening. I guess the writer was trying to up the intrigue and mystery. The result is mostly just confusing.

It's unlikely anyone was watching “Maximum Risk” for the plot anyway. Ringo Lam orchestrates some bone-breaking fight scenes. Van Damme's first fight has him spinning outside a window, clinging to a shutters, before swinging back inside. He's flipping bad guys over his shoulders and snapping limbs with ease. Another awesome fight takes place in an alley way, where Van Damme employs a pipe to kick some ass. That focus on snapping bones returns in a fight in a sauna, Jean-Claude and his opponent dressed only in tiny towels. Probably the best action happens in the last third. Van Damme and the big blonde Russian wrestle on the floor of an elevator, a satisfyingly savage fight in an enclosed space. The climatic scene takes place in a butcher shop and features our hero swinging around on hooks while the bad guy wields a chainsaw. It's awesome. 

Lam isn't pleased with just crazy physical stunts. “Maximum Risk” is packed full of ridiculous car chases too. The opening race sticks a series of vehicles in increasingly smaller Parisian alleyways. It concludes with Van Damme, driving some sort of three-wheeled scooter, ramping over a canal. A colorful supporting character is a taxi driver/would-be novelist, who naturally gets involved in a car chase/shoot-out. It's mentioned in passing that Alain was an experienced sniper in the military. This skill, weirdly, doesn't come up until near the end, where he shoots out a driver behind the wheel of a van, leading towards an explosion. Not all the best stunts involve car chases. One impressive moments has Van Damme diving between two charging subway trains.

If you're looking for some spectacularly executed action, you'll be well-served by “Maximum Risk.” The script doesn't make much sense but the pacing is zippy, the stunts are fantastic, the performances are solid, and the direction is energetic. Van Damme and Ringo Lam's second movie together, “Replicant,” would also feature two Van Dammes, crazy vehicular stunts, and be way better than you expected. I'll be really disappointed if the third movie they did together, which I'll review later this month, didn't also meet these qualifications. [7/10]

[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 3 outta 5]
[X] An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[] Close-Up Screaming
[] Dancing
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick

No comments: