Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, May 27, 2016

JCVD-A-THON: Enemies Closer (2013)

After two successful collaborations with his son, Jean-Claude Van Damme would re-team with Peter Hyams for the first time since “Sudden Death.” The elder Hyams’ days as a top action director was long behind him. His previous films where “Beyond a Reason Doubt” and “A Sound of Thunder,” both flops. Maybe Peter was hoping on riding Van Damme’s newly renewed cult popularity to some success of his own? “Enemies Closer” went direct-to-video in most of the world. However, the reviews were decent and the film provided the action icon with another latter-day chance to show off his still sharp skills.

Henry is a former marine now working as a park ranger on a forested island between the U.S. and Canadian border. His relatively quiet existence, and a chance at romance with a pretty female camper, is interrupted by two events on the same night. First, a man named Clay marches into his cabin. Clay’s brother was part of Henry’s military squad in the Middle East. Blaming Henry for his brother’s death, Clay is determined to take revenge. Meanwhile, a vicious drug cartel, led by a French-Canadian militant vegan, lands on the island to retrieve a lost shipment of heroin. Inevitably, the villains take aim at Henry and Clay, forcing the two sworn enemies to work together if they hope to survive.

Disappointingly, Van Damme is not the main character of “Enemies Closer.” However, he’s absolutely the main reason to see it. With a wreath of wild hair atop his leathery head, Jean-Claude enters the film in full Canadian Mountie regalia. That’s just the first of several delightfully kooky elements the script provides Van Damme with. Named Xander, the bad guy is a murderous vegan. He bemoans cow farts contributing to green house gases and the effects of gasoline on the environment. One of “Enemies Closer’s” best moments is a monologue from Van Damme. He details a traumatic childhood memory, where a beloved pet goose wound up as foie gras, that led him to both veganism and murder. The film is happy to note Xander’s devotion to animal life but his disregard for human life. Van Damme exits the film cackling wildly. He joyously hams it up all throughout “Enemies Closer,” gesticulating with a quirky body language. It’s the kind of happily ridiculous JCVD performance I’ve been waiting to see for a while now.

Van Damme is highly entertaining but what about the film’s actual heroes? “Enemies Closer” isn’t quite a “Die Hard” rip-off, as the terrorists invading a limited location are aware of the everyman-turned-action-hero from the beginning. Tom Everett Scott’s Henry is no John McClane either. Scott’s easy going nature are well suited to the early scenes of him patrolling the park. Once the action breaks out, Scott seems weirdly out of his element. Orlando “7 Up Yours!” Jones plays Clay. Jones’ character arc is entirely routine. He starts out as a man with nothing to loose, blaming a stranger for the death of his brother. Naturally, Clay and Henry overcome their differences before the end. Neither Scott nor Jones are bad actors. Yet neither character, especially compared to Van Damme’s kooky bad guy, hold the audience’s attention very well.

“Enemies Closer’s” goals as an action flick are decidedly modest. Do not go in expecting the brutal combat and explicit violence of the later “Universal Soldier” sequels. Hyams takes a few cues from his son’s films, as “Enemies Closer” features some diverting MMA-style tumbles and tosses. Unsurprisingly, the best action beats belong to Van Damme. Early on, he cracks a CD in half and slices an opponent up with the sharp edges. He tosses guys over shoulder, climbs storage lockers, and turns a keyboard into a deadly weapon. Later in the film, he stabs some guys with a random stick. There’s a convincing fall out of a tree and at least one big explosion. The gun play – which is mostly what Scott and Jones do – is not particularly memorable. At the very least, Hyams’ direction is moody, as the island’s forest is characterized by smoky shadows.

“Enemies Closer” is unambitious but that’s kind of okay. Running only 85 minutes, it’s clear the film was intended to be nothing more then a mildly amusing action-packed snack. The plot is nothing special and the heroes are unremarkable. Truthfully, it’s all worth it to see Jean-Claude Van Damme decimate the scenery as a homicidal animal activist. If the movie had just tossed the routine story out and focused on Van Damme’s lovably nutty character, it could’ve been an instant cult classic. As it is, “Enemies Closer” is a good time while it’s on and certainly succeeds at its humble goals. [7/10]

[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 2 outta 5]
[] An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[] Dancing
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick

Jean-Claude Van Damme has happily taken advantage his renewed cult status and recent meme-dom. That upcoming "Kickboxer" remake remains his highest profile project in years and should be heading to theaters later this year. Van Damme is so excited about it that work has already begun on a sequel. Meanwhile, the Muscles from Brussels will also be soon starring in a hilarious sounding Amazon series, which sounds like a kookier series-length take on "JCVD." You can bet I'll be seeking out both projects.

It's doubtful Van Damme will ever regain the level of fame he attained in the nineties. Despite that, his career has continued to evolve in fascinating directions, as the most compellingly eccentric of the classic action stars continues to be a pop culture figure not quite like any other. This marathon has been blast. I'll go ahead and announce that "JCVD-A-THON: The Return" is already on the docket for next year. Until then, Film Thoughts has a lot of other stuff planned. Stay tuned and keep kickin'.

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