Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, May 15, 2016

JCVD-A-THON: Double Impact (1991)

As the nineties started, Jean-Claude Van Damme had already proven himself as one of the hardest working action stars in Hollywood. He had been making two movies a year since his break-out role in “Bloodsport.” Having already kicked a lot of people in the face by 1991, perhaps Van Damme became interested in showing audiences another side of himself. He wanted to make a movie that was intentionally funny while still delivering the action thrills his fans expected. “Double Impact” established some new challenges for the action star, upped the explosions and gun play, while continuing Van Damme’s box office success.

In the sixties, Hong Kong based businessman Paul Wagner and his wife are brutally executed by Chinese mobsters. Luckily, Paul’s twin sons, Alex and Chad, escape the massacre. Twenty-five years later, the brothers live in other parts of the globe. Chad is a martial artist and gym instructor in Los Angeles. Alex, meanwhile, has stayed in Hong Kong. Neither are aware of each other. Until mutual family friend Frank flies Chad to Asia and introduces them. Despite initially hating each other, the two brothers decide to seek revenge on the people who murdered their parents. Together, they take on the Triads.

Like any movie star who primarily appears in action films, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acting abilities are frequently criticized. Even as a fan, I’ll admit his acting was awkward in his earlier films. Maybe he was more comfortable on-screen by this point or maybe he took some lessons. Because JCVD stretches more then just his leg muscles in “Double Impact.” He successfully creates two separate characters. Chad is characterized by a loose body language, a babe-in-the-woods naivety and a goofy sense of humor. Alex, meanwhile, is stiffer, harsher, and tougher. Van Damme is not a good enough actor to shed his distinctive Belgian accent. His attempts to make the brothers sound different are fairly cartoonish. The hair and make-up departments help too, as the two have different haircuts and fashion senses. Yet the viewer never confuses the twins. The martial artist gives both characters distinct personalities.

Incorporating more humor into the star’s established screen persona was a goal of “Double Impact.” Which is good, since his movies have been making me laugh from the beginning. “Double Impact” is fucking hilarious and I’m pretty sure at least some of that was on purpose. For example, Chad is introduced in a tight blue leotard, teaching/seducing a room full of horny female customers. He arrives in Hong Kong wearing pink pastel shorts and silk underwear, a fact that is repeatedly referenced. When Alex calls his brother a “faggot,” it seems to bring the gay subtext of every Van Damme movie directly to the surface. (This is aside from the villain’s Amazonian lesbian henchwoman who molests the twins’ love interest.) The contrast between the brothers’ two personalities is frequently played for jokes. While “Double Impact” is full of death and mayhem, its tone remains light and humorous.

“Double Impact” was directed by Sheldon Lettich, who co-wrote “Bloodsport” and directed “Lionheart.” Lettich brings some stylish use of color to “Double Impact.” Since this is an action movie from the early nineties, a lot of the violence takes place in steamy warehouses. Lettich frames many of these sequences in moody red or purple colors. A notable fight scene takes place entirely in blue-tinted shadows, an especially memorable moment. Another difference between the twins is that Alex prefers fire arms to drop kicks. Thus “Double Impact” features a lot of gun play. The opening murder is surprisingly bloody and that level of gore is maintained throughout the film. The focus on stylistic gunplay shows that Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed cinema was already starting to influence western action cinema.

Don’t think “Double Impact” lacks for melee combat. There’s many moments of joyous punching and kicking. Van Damme does a split within the first five minutes, after all. When the bad guys invade the twins’ home, Chad is smashing heads and kicking folks through doors. Bolo Yeung returns from “Bloodsport,” playing another intimidating and primarily silent villain. During the last third, both men take their shirts off, revealing their oily chest. A hugely entertaining fight scene follows, making great use of a giant barrel. Considering the main villains are boring dudes in suits, this fight is “Double Impact’s” proper climax. Of course, Van Damme’s best opponent is himself. The fight between Alex and Chad is the centerpiece of “Double Impact.” The illusion of two Van Dammes is pulled off surprisingly well. The twins’ drunken brawl is a moment of dizzy action glee.

Oh shit, I haven’t mentioned the slow motion sex scene! That’s clearly the peak of the film’s unintentional humor. Okay, maybe the final shot – a freeze frame on a sweaty, topless Jean-Claude flashing an “OK” sign – might be funnier. Van Damme clearly enjoyed playing double roles on-screen. He appeared alongside himself again in “Timecop,” “Maximum Risk,” “The Order” and “Replicant.” “Double Impact” is another goofy classic of Van Dammage. Hilarious, action packed, and smoothly directed, the film is certain to entertain fans of the kickboxing action icon. [8/10]

[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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