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Thursday, July 13, 2017

JCVD-A-THON: The Order (2001)

By 2001, Jean-Claude Van Damme teaming up with Nu Image / Millennium Films only made too much sense. These days, Nu Image has gone semi-legit by producing the “Expendables” and “Olympus Has Fallen” franchises. In the nineties and early naughties, they were best known for low budget action and horror schlock. We're talking the likes of “Crocodile” and “Cyborg Cop.” Sadly, this was exactly the level Van Damme was operating on at the time. He would star in five films for Nu Image. Among these, “The Order” would re-pair Van Damme with his “Lionheart” and “Double Impact” director, Sheldon Lettich. Jean-Claude would also work on the script. The result is a fitfully amusing action/adventure flick with a somewhat schizoid tone.

Many years ago, a disenchanted Templar Knight started a mysterious new religious sect in the Middle East, known as the Order. Despite the last part of their religious text disappearing, the cult survives into the present day. The knight's modern day descendant is Ruby Cafmeyer, a thief who steals ancient artifacts for his archaeologist dad. Their latest discovery is the reminder of the knight's writings, which also includes a map to a treasure-filled temple under Jerusalem. While in the holy city, Ruby comes into conflict with the fanatical current day leader of the cult, who kidnap his dad, and plan on triggering a holy war by setting off a bomb in the hidden temple.

It's not too hard to see that Van Damme co-wrote “The Order.” The film features the star's trademarks early and often. Within the first five minutes, the Muscle from Brussels is jump-kicking security guards, spinning around enemies, and performing roundhouse kicks. He dances both in the heat of combat and casually. He even does a mid-air split! Lettich seems to delight in putting Van Damme's trademark action in goofy situation. The opening has him wearing clownish face paint. He tussles in a fountain. The absolute highlight of the film is an extended chase/fight through the streets of Jerusalem. Throughout this scene, Van Damme is dressed like a Hasidic Jew, with a beard on his chin, black hat on his head, and payot curls framing his face. You haven't lived until you've seen Van Damme kicking ass while dressed as a rabbi!

Sadly, “The Order” doesn't maintain this tone of goofy nonsense throughout. Midway through, Ruby sneaks into the Order while wearing their white-and-red robes. (The Order's symbol, a stone cross in a circle, resembles the Klu Klux Klan emblem. Presumably, this was unintentional.) Afterwards, the film's excessively wacky atmosphere takes a more dour direction. The finale was clearly hoping to capture an “Indiana Jones” tone. Our hero, after all, is exploring a hidden temple laden with booby traps and treasure. By the time Van Damme is sword-fighting with the main baddy, most of the fun has been sucked out of “The Order.” The movie attempts to recapture this at the last minute, when Van Damme looses his shirt just for the hell of it. But it's too little, too late by that point.

“The Order” was pretty clearly a very cheap production. Really shitty CGI is utilized to depict explosions and a guy getting impaled on a wooden winch. Most of the film is set in nondescript city streets and generic temple sets. Sheldon Lettich's direction on “Lionheart” and “Double Impact” was solid, even atmospheric. Yet the editing here is weirdly incompetent. There's several car chases that are terribly assembled. A vehicle leaps into the air, smashing through a wall of water jugs, without hitting a ramp. Later, an airport chase scene features some roughly edited crashes and zooms. “The Order” looks kind of shitty in general, which I'm willing to blame on Nu Image/Millennium's rushed production schedule.

Jean-Claude Van Damme generally seems to be having fun in “The Order.” He is clearly embracing his comedic side in the film's early scenes. The entire production is full of balletic action scenes, allowing the star to kick and leap to his heart's content. What of the supporting cast? Charlton Heston is in the movie, which seems like it should be a big deal. But don't get too excited. He's only in a few scenes and is then abruptly killed off. Heston does his job but doesn't impress. Sofia Milos appears as the tough Israeli cop who bosses Van Damme around. The two don't share much romantic chemistry, which was clearly the intended goal. Brian Thompson, previously of “Cobra,” appears as the bad guy. Thompson barks stern dialogue while wearing a silly robe. He tries to ham it up but the part isn't even that interesting.

“The Order” is about what you'd expect from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie made in 2001. It's cheaply made, shoddily directed, sloppily written, and features some B-list talent in the supporting cast. Having said that, the film does provide some pleasures for fans of the star. The fight scenes are solid and there's some delightfully kooky humor. I mean, any movie that has Van Damme doing a split-kick in mid-air while dressed in Jewish drag can't be totally worthless! But, all together, “The Order” isn't too memorable. [6/10]

[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

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