Double Team (1997)
Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman. Far too strange of a pairing to ignore. You throw Mickey Rourke into the mix as the villain, and how can you really say no? Okay, so this wasn’t a blockbuster, and even plans for a sequel never materialized. I was not allowed to see the film in theatres at the time, punishment for getting poor progress reports in high school that week. So, I discovered it on VHS, and now, re-discovered it on a decent widescreen DVD. I can understand why this got negative reviews, but the fact is, Double Team wasn’t trying to be anything more than what it was – a fun, exciting, and highly entertaining action film.
Van Damme portrays CIA counter-terrorist operative Jack Quinn who runs one final mission before retirement to start a family with his lovely wife Kathryn. Years later, with his pregnant wife in the South of France, Quinn is paid a visit by an old colleague to rope him back into action to help bring down his old nemesis Stavros (Mickey Rourke). A man who once worked for the good guys when they needed someone with the stomach for dirtier work to be done, but has long since worked for the other side supplying arms and other contraband. In prepping this operation in Antwerp, Jack taps eccentric arms dealer Yaz (Dennis Rodman) who himself “doesn’t play with the bad boys anymore, just the good guys.” They strike a fun chord with one another, making a memorable impression. However, Quinn misses the target, and the mission is a failure. Stavros loses both his son and girlfriend in this violent encounter. In the aftermath, Quinn is sent to an island called “The Colony” where former intelligence agents and assassins work together to counteract terrorist plots around the world. Jack is ushered through this new environment by former operative Goldsmyth (Paul Freeman). However, Jack seeks escape from the seemingly inescapable island after he receives a message from Stavros stating the he has abducted his pregnant wife who is about to give birth to their son. A daring and dangerous escape brings Jack back to Antwerp seeking Yaz’s arsenal and savvy. What ensues beyond this is an unlikely partnership that evolves, through adrenalin fueled danger, into a trusted friendship as Quinn attempts to save his wife and child while trying to burn down Stavros once and for all.
What would make or break this film was clearly going to be how Van Damme and Rodman meshed. The eccentric NBA star was hot news at the time easily coined a bad boy for his antics on and off the court. Here, he is surprisingly funny and likeable without being crass. I found him nicely charming generating a lot of the film’s clean sense of fun and humor. Van Damme holds down the more serious end of things nicely. It’s not anything exceptional, but he inhabits Jack Quinn very well. You can feel his determination and love for his wife and child throughout the film. JCVD has a lot of heart to offer in these roles which I think gets overlooked by the sensational aspects of his movies. As Quinn, it really shows through. And while Rodman handles the bulk of the humor, Jean-Claude dishes out a few quips here and there as banter with Yaz. As a team, they may not be 100% pitch perfect, but their performances balance out the film well. Van Damme and Rodman seem to be enjoying themselves, and their chemistry works out to surprising success to make them a fine, if unlikely team. Of course, there are numerous basketball jokes throughout the movie, but they are handled with a bit of charm. And frankly, would you expect otherwise? A film of this sort with many plot, humor, and character throwbacks to the cliché 1980s action film couldn’t possibly deny those ripe opportunities. Don’t take that as a knock at all. Double Team takes that style and formula, and gives it a nice splash of fresh paint with a late 90s style. A sharper, sleeker design that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Mickey Rourke could play a heavy without even trying, but as we’ve seen in recent years, he has a wide range of acting talents. Here, he doesn’t need to stretch far, but Stavros is a solid villain with a fine array of henchmen and assassins. He has a clear plan of revenge that he handles calmly and confidently. He keeps his cool throughout because he’s got the game nicely strategized for Quinn to follow his lead. Mickey has a smooth coolness wrapped up with a tough bad ass edge which suits Stavros perfectly, and gives Quinn a hell of an enemy to combat.
Rounding out the meat of the cast is Paul Freeman as Goldsmyth. The role has some nice British charm mixed with a touch of humor and shadiness. He’s both ally and adversary to Quinn, and he shifts from one to the other with a bit of grace without losing his likeability. Goldsmyth would rather not have to be an adversary, but circumstances deem it necessary for him to be as such. In the end, Goldsmyth is given an upbeat final note to go out on. Freeman handles the role smoothly.
The action, of course, is very well handled. Competently shot with a dash of style, and nicely edited to maintain energy and pace without sacrificing the clarity of the visual storytelling. I have not seen even most of Van Damme’s movies, but this has a nice mix of action sequences that should satisfy his fans. He does plenty of hard hitting martial arts fights mixed with shootouts and explosions to keep the film exciting and varied. The climactic action sequence is flat out AMAZING with a tiger set loose on Quinn in the Roman Coliseum with a field of hidden landmines, and some daring motorcycle antics by Yaz. It’s an explosive, rather original double edged ending that also gives Rourke the chance to show off his impressive physique. Mickey Rourke trained rigorously to be up to Van Damme’s level for their fight scenes, and certainly holds up his end providing a formidable adversary. This being a film from the late 1990s, there’s some splashes of John Woo style action, but in general, it’s solid work. The European setting is a very nice touch giving a different style to the film in many ways. It helps the movie to stand out a bit more with a fresh flavor.
Other elements of fun definitely come from Rodman’s character. He handles some brief, but enjoyable and entertaining action sequences. Being an athlete already, I’m sure it was an easy fit for him, and the role is written in such a way to maintain a sense of sly humor. It all fits for his character’s style, and supplements the more hard hitting action that Van Damme offers. Another fun bit are Yaz’s “cyber monks.” A group of monks in Rome that Yaz has befriended with the gift of modern technology. They are an endearing bunch which provide some additional smiles and chuckles for a brief period late in the film. The humor present in the film really does help balance out the heavier dramatic and action aspects, and gives Double Team its endearing charm. There’s some cheesy dialogue, but it’s all handled in good fun.
Again, the cinematography offers up some style that is very telling of the time it was made. Dutched angles here and there are used more to add a stylistic composition to a few shots than create an artistic off-kilter perception. Unlike in Thor when it was used to no purposeful effect, here, it just feels like a sign of the times. Dutch angles in action films were used as a stamp of “cool.” You would shoot a subject with an awkward angle, and they take on a more skewed “cool” look in combination with the sleek, shadowy lighting. It’s nothing I take issue with, but it is indeed a trademark of late 90s action films that a modern audience wouldn’t be so used to.
The plot is pretty standard fare that was practically a decade old by this time. That was brightly highlighted in the Nostalgia Critic’s review of the movie, which is what sparked me to check it out, again. However, as I’ve said, I think the storyline is handled well with doses of humor, Van Damme’s unique action stylings, and the European setting. While the film does have its humor, it’s never used at the expense of the drama. It’s very nicely balanced for both to co-exist without clashing. The movie is well cast with actors who bring distinctive personality to their characters, and make the ride one worth taking. There are certainly gaps in logic with the screenplay, and some things on-screen are a bit ridiculous. Still, like I said, this was meant to be a fun thrill ride. It never takes these elements are serious, and are usually brief gaps.
I watch Double Team again now, and I just wish they made a sequel. It’s so much fun with enjoyable, colorful characters, and nicely energetic and slightly over the top action sequences. Plans were considered for a sequel, and while its box office take did exceed its production budget, it wasn’t a huge success. Every film, generally, should be judged on its own merits, and based on the genre and style of film this is, I think it’s definitely worthwhile. Plenty of big action to be had along with some solid laughs.