May 19, 2011 by abbyo
I have a strange relationship to Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, a relationship I suspect at lot of people share. I know his movies are bad. I do. But the love I have for them transcends the typical bad movie ironic enjoyment. I legitimately count “Blood Sport” and “Timecop” among my favorite movies of all time, despite the fact that they are awful; full of wooden acting, bad writing and ridiculous action scenes that exist solely to let Van Damme show off his fighting prowess. These are movies for which the term “so bad it’s good” was invented. There’s just no other way to put the way I feel about them into words. Hating JCVD would be like hating a homeless puppy, if that homeless puppy could also do split-kicks. You just can’t do it.
Suffice it to say that I will watch any Van Damme movie. But when there’s one that features not only JCVD, but Mickey Rourke and Dennis Rodman? Count me in. That movie is “Double Team,” and it’s what I’m reviewing this week.
The plot (such as it is): Jean-Claude plays the oddly named Jack-Paul Quinn, another in his long line of American action heroes with Belgian accents. He’s a CIA agent who’s retired to live the quiet life in Europe with his pregnant wife. But one day, he gets called back in to help track down and eliminate Stavros (Rourke), a baddie with unclear motivations other than being violent and generally nasty. Obviously, things get complicated. Stavros kidnaps Jack’s wife, and Jack is exiled to what appears to be an island peopled by discarded James Bond villains. To break out and get his wife and unborn baby back, Jack enlists the help of arms dealer Yaz (a spectacularly awful Rodman).
Van Damme is his usual no-nonsense, ass-kicking self in this movie. But he’s not the reason to watch it. The real reason is Rodman, whose wacko persona is perfectly encapsulated in the movie. “Double Team” was released right around the time that Rodman was inducted into the NBA hall of fame, and in the midst of the Chicago Bulls’ three-peat repeat between 1996 and 1998. As with Michael Jordan in “Space Jam,” Rodman was considered a bankable star despite his lack of acting experience, simply because everyone on that team was huge at the time. As with Van Damme’s kung fu, the role of Yaz exists solely to showcase Rodman’s bizarro style and attitude. He changes his hair color more times than I could count, and definitely more times than should be physically possible, given the movie’s time line. And then there are the numerous not-so-subtle basketball references. They’re shoehorned into the script, even though Rodman’s character isn’t a basketball player. He’s even got a basketball-shaped parachute, just in case you still weren’t aware of Rodman’s day job.
Another (unsung) star of the movie: product placement. In addition to Rodman essentially being a product placement for himself, the movie also manages to include Coke and the tiger from the Mandalay Films logo in a final confrontation scene that starts out ridiculous (a showdown between Van Damme and Rourke in a landmine-rigged Coliseum) and just builds from there (Van Damme also has to defeat a man-eating tiger, and a Coke machine is used as a shield to save Van Damme, Rodman and Van Damme’s newborn child from fiery doom). Apparently there are soda machines at the Coliseum. Who knew, right?
Double Team is a hot mess of a movie. The script contains so many plot holes that you’d be forgiven for confusing it with Swiss cheese. The way it zips along nonchalantly despite Grand Canyon-sized gaps in logic, the movie feels like it was constructed by a group of play-acting elementary school kids. But that’s why I kind of love it. Movies like Double Team are the perfect example of a flick that not only requires the audience to suspend disbelief, but to turn off their brains completely. It goes about its jaw-droppingly absurd work with a sense of infectious glee. As is the way with all Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles, it’s perfectly dumb fun. It’s a split-kicking homeless puppy: it just feels wrong not to love it.
There’s once scene in “Double Team” that is either a blatant rip-off or an homage to the hospital sequence at the end of John Woo’s brilliant “Hard Boiled,” I can’t decide which it is–and unfortunately can’t find a clip to play for you here. But if you’ve seen “Hard Boiled,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. The scene involves a maternity ward, and endangered infants in bassinets.
Another classic moment: Van Damme and Rodman go “undercover” at one point towards the end of the film. Here’s what they come up with:
Could’ve fooled me.
Finally, listen to the song that’s playing over the credit sequence. It features Rodman on vocals, and it is one classy piece of music.
Scott Tobias’ “New Cult Canon” essay on Double Team gave me the inspiration for this week’s review. For a more eloquent review of the film, as well as some cultural context, check it out.