Double Team (1997) Columbia/Action RT: 93 minutes Rated R (violence and language) Director: Tsui Hark Screenplay: Don Jakoby and Paul Mones Music: Gary Chang Cinematography: Peter Pau Release date: April 4, 1997 (US) Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Paul Freeman, Mickey Rourke, Natacha Lindinger, Valeria Cavalli. Box Office: $11.4 million (US)
Double Team has to be one of the most ridiculous action flicks ever made. No, I take that back. It IS one of the most ridiculous action flicks ever made! How else could you describe a movie that co-stars NBA player Dennis Rodman? He’s known as well for his skills on the court as he is his colorful personality and outrageous antics off the court. In Double Team, he plays Yaz, an arms dealer who works out of a sex club in the red light district of Antwerp. This guy stocks military hardware so new he doesn’t even know he has it. He’s also not accustomed to sticking out his neck for anybody (the similarities to Rick Blaine begin and end here) but he still joins JCVD’s character in his attempts to take down international terrorist Stavros (Rourke, Angel Heart). It’s the strangest pairing since Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett in Saturn 3 (1980). What’s even stranger is that it sort of works in an ultra-weird kind of way.
Van Damme plays Quinn, a CIA agent called out of retirement to nail his archnemesis Stavros. He reluctantly takes the assignment which, of course, goes horribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of several agents and Stavros’ six-year-old son. The two men fight (in a hospital maternity ward!) and Quinn gets knocked unconscious. He wakes up in a place called “The Colony”, a combination penal island and think tank where secret agents “too valuable to kill but too dangerous to set free” are sent after colossal screw-ups like Quinn’s. The Colony is invisible to radar and supposedly escape-proof. Each day, the agents sit at computers and analyze terroristic threats. This is how Quinn finds out Stavros has kidnapped his pregnant wife (who thinks he’s dead).
Remember what I said about The Colony being escape-proof? Quinn manages to escape and make his way back to Antwerp where he reconnects with Yaz (he sold him weapons for the botched mission). Yaz agrees to help him find Stavros and retrieve his wife in exchange for access to secret CIA bank accounts. The two go to Rome where Stavros intends to kill Quinn out of revenge for his son’s death. The climactic death match takes place in the Colosseum (it was actually filmed in the Arles Amphitheatre in France but never mind) and involves land mines and a tiger. Yes, it plays just as bizarre as it sounds. It’s kind of fun though. The whole movie is, really.
To think, I hated Double Team the first time I saw it (April 1, 1997). Was it coincidental or intentional that the prerelease screening took place on April Fools’ Day? That’s what I was thinking as I left the theater. A movie this bad has to be a joke, right? And it is bad, no two ways about it. The story makes no sense. The acting and dialogue are awful. It’s wildly edited. But it’s all part of the movie’s appeal. The very things that should work against it actually work in its favor. Double Team is one those so-bad-it’s-great movies.
We all know Van Damme can’t act. He can fight but he has the emotional range of a piece of driftwood. Thankfully, he never seems to take himself too seriously. Well, Rodman makes JCVD look like a master thespian. I’m not even sure what he does in Double Team qualifies as a performance. He essentially plays himself; the only difference is that he handles weaponry instead of a ball. His hair color changes from scene to scene. His dialogue consists mainly of basketball references. Example: “It’s time to get off the bench!” and “The best defense is a strong offense.” In one scene, Quinn and Yaz jump from a plane inside something that looks like a giant basketball. Double Team is filled with weird scenes like this. At one point, they receive help from an order of monks with a subterranean computer set-up that would make Bill Gates jealous. It leads to a scene in a catacomb where Rodman attempts to hit a detonator with a human skull. When he misses, he says, “Oops! Air ball!” Okay, LOL, very funny.
I’m not even sure what to say about Rourke as Stavros. His performance is almost as weird as Rodman’s in that it’s indescribable. It’s not one of those over-the-top deals you normally see in movies like this. He’s more of a charm-meets-slime kind of guy. Rourke underplays it to a certain degree but there’s still a fair amount of menace to his character. How would you describe a guy that brings a newborn baby to a fight involving land mines and a prowling tiger? Oh, I almost forgot. Paul Freeman, Indiana Jones’ chief rival in Raiders of the Lost Ark, plays Goldsmythe, the fellow Colony resident sent to kill Quinn after his amazing escape. He adds a strong dose of camp to the proceedings.
One thing Double Team doesn’t lack is action. There’s plenty of it starting with the opening sequence in which Quinn drives a truck load of stolen plutonium through Croatia and crashes it through a freight train. The fight choreography is quite good. The action scenes are as cool as they are preposterous. There are a lot of “Yeah, right!” moments but my favorite has to be when our heroes shield themselves from an explosion with a Coke vending machine. There are a lot of visible product placements for Coke in Double Team. I thought the soft drink company no longer owned the studio (they sold it to Sony in ’89).
I’m not saying that Double Team is a great movie or an action classic. It’s neither. It is a lot of fun even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark (A Chinese Ghost Story), it’s like a live-action cartoon. It’s colorful, fast-moving and silly. It has fight scenes, shoot-outs, car chases and explosions. Double Team is junk food for the brain. It provides zero nutrition but it tastes good.