Maximum Risk (1996) Columbia/Action RT: 106 minutes Rated R (strong violence, language, nudity, sexual content) Director: Ringo Lam Screenplay: Larry Ferguson Music: Robert Folk Cinematography: Alexander Gruszynski Release date: September 13, 1996 (US) Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Zach Grenier, Paul Ben-Victor, Frank Senger, Stefanos Miltsakakis, Frank van Keeken, David Hemblen, Stephane Audran, Dan Moran, Donald Burda, Rob Kaman, Herb Lovelle, Denis Costanzo. Box Office: $14.5 million (US)/$51.7 million (World)
Some might say Maximum Risk is as bland a title for an action flick as any one of the hundreds of direct-to-video actioners that sat on the shelves of video stores (remember those?) in the 90s. That’s why I like it. It’s the perfect title for a 90s action movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Timecop) only this one made it to theaters. It’s a pretty good flick actually. In it, JCVD takes on the Russian mafia and corrupt FBI agents as he tries to find out who killed his twin brother and why. If this sounds vaguely familiar, you must be thinking of Double Impact (1991) in which JCVD also played twin brothers taking on gangsters (the Chinese Triad). In my opinion, Maximum Risk is the better movie.
It starts with a car chase through the narrow streets of South France. Director Ringo Lam (City on Fire) wastes no time setting the tone for the picture by having one of the speeding cars knock over a fruit stand within the first three minutes. In fact, the driver in question, Mikhail (Van Damme), happens to be driving a fruit cart. How funny-cool is that? It ends badly with Mikhail dead. But all is not lost. It turns out there’s a twin brother, a French cop named Alain (Van Damme). They were separated at three months old and didn’t know about each other. Alain decides to go to New York to investigate his brother’s death. He learns that Mikhail was involved with the Russian mafia and they don’t yet know he’s dead. He poses as his brother to get answers. He hooks up with his brother’s girlfriend Alex (Henstridge, Species), a hostess at the club from which mob boss Kirov (Hemblen) conducts business.
Meanwhile, the FBI knows about Alain’s ruse. Two of their agents, Pellman (Ben-Victor, True Romance) and Loomis (Senger, Leon the Professional), the same ones responsible for Mikhail’s death, are sent to retrieve Alain and force him to hand over incriminating evidence of their involvement with the Russians. It’s in a safety deposit box in Nice and only Alain-posing-as-Mikhail has access. There’s also some business about one of Kirov’s men, Ivan (Grenier, Donnie Brasco), wanting to kill Mikhail/Alain despite his boss’ orders not to.
Maximum Risk is a fully functional action flick. It has car chases, fights, shoot-outs, cool stunts, a bloody stabbing and a finale inside a meat freezer that involves a chainsaw. There’s a huge behemoth of a guy (Miltsakakis) that shows up periodically to thrash (or try to anyway) JCVD. There’s a talkative cab driver (Kids in the Hall writer van Keeken) who babbles about Bret Easton Ellis in the thick of action. He makes a nice comic sidekick but exits much too early. The scene inside the bank in Nice is pretty cool. There’s a great chase scene that ends with JCVD dangling from the subway tracks over the street. It bears mentioning that the Brooklyn scenes were actually shot in the Kensington area of Philadelphia. I thought those El tracks looked familiar. As for the acting, it’s about you’d expect in a movie like this. Van Damme gives a slightly better performance than usual. Henstridge is pretty hot. Grenier is very good as the psycho Russian bad guy. In the end, Maximum Risk is all about the action. It’s action-packed, fast-moving and very violent. Isn’t that what really counts when it comes to action flicks? In that respect, Maximum Risk more than delivers. It’s a solid roundhouse kick-ass actioner!