Double Team

on April 04, 1997 by Karen Achenbach
   Jean-Claude Van Damme, the workhorse Kickboxer/Romancer, has accomplished something bright, wild and unusual. By starring in their films, he has assisted three famed Hong Kong directors to enter the American market: John Woo with "Hard Target," Ringo Lam with "Maximum Risk" and now Tsui Hark with "Double Team." That alone is a feat of merit and significance. And in his latest "double teaming"--or triple-teaming, if one includes media sensation/NBA player Dennis Rodman, who co-stars--Van Damme has facilitated a piece of cinematic poetry for the global audience.
   Known for his highly kinetic, comic-book style, Tsui has more than 50 features under his belt (among them "Peking Opera Blues," "A Chinese Ghost Story" and "Once Upon a Time in China") and is the person responsible for bringing special effects to Hong Kong cinema by importing Hollywood effects artists. In his first stateside production (though shot in Europe with an international crew and cast), Tsui has retained a good portion of the style he's famous for--and he's extended it. With the help of cinematographer Peter Pau (Woo's "The Killer"), Tsui uses complex camera and lab work: dolly counter-zooms, step printing, different film speeds, kaleidoscopic angles, and closeups. Edited by Bill Pankow ("Maximum Risk") and containing split-second edits, "Double Team" never stays still. It's one of the fastest collages of storytelling images to surface in an American film and contains a groundbreaking amusement park sequence of pure speed, color and image (e.g., in the middle of a desperate gun battle, there's an extreme closeup of broken glass, then feet). As in a poem, the line ends don't meet to form a sentence, but the story is perceived. (Younger generations will have no trouble following the action.)
   The story: America's best anti-terrorist, Jack Quinn (a quietly powerful Van Damme) is forced from "retirement" to kill master terrorist Stavros ("Angel Heart's" Mickey Rourke, pumped up with muscles and sadness). Quinn fails, but Stavros' wife and child are killed, and Quinn is imprisoned in The Colony (the film's original title), a think tank for ex-operatives. That leaves Stavros free to take revenge on Quinn's pregnant wife (Natacha Lindinger) and unborn child. Quinn must escape, find a colorful associate--weapons dealer Yaz (Rodman, a comic/action success) and save his family.
   Audiences will appreciate the reality of these physically adept males, particularly Van Damme and Rodman (on this team, Rodman seems like a giant), though Rourke is a boxer of some stature himself. Van Damme uses his body to achieve the emotional power that his words cannot, while Rodman gets the punch lines. Though the plot leaks, the three leads bail it out with passion, aided by the theme of children: Stavros is motivated by the death of his son; Quinn is trying to save his child; Yaz forgoes his fee when he learns a child's life is at stake.
   As unlikely as it sounds given the action genre and the global audience, Tsui--also known for providing political subtexts--appears to be suggesting that the real focus is saving the young. Also of note is a stunningly swift and adept martial arts fight sequence with action choreographer Xin Xin Xiong, not chopped to bits with closeups. More connective tissue is provided in this Mandalay/One Story effort by a smart and eclectic score by Gary Chang. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke and Natacha Lindinger. Directed by Tsui Hark. Written by Don Jakoby and Paul Mones. Produced by Moshe Diamant. A Columbia release. Action/adventure. Rated R for nonstop action violence. Running time: 93 min
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