review enemies closer

A small plane crashes in a lake along the U.S.-Canadian border, and over the next few hours a group of drug-runners led by a militant vegan named Xander (Jean-Claude Van Damme) descend on a nearby island in order to retrieve the cargo. The only things standing in their way are a park ranger named Henry (Tom Everett Scott) and a mysterious visitor named Clay (Orlando Jones) who’s on a mission of revenge. Oh, and Xander’s lack of anything resembling a well thought out plan may also pose a bit of problem.

Enemies Closer is a perfectly serviceable, low-budget action picture that is at its best whenever Van Damme is onscreen. He’s channeling Nicolas Cage circa Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, and he chews his way through every scene with a gleefully manic energy. The bad news though is that scenes without him are slight at best and insufferable at worst.

“Think about the children.”

Henry is sole caretaker of King’s Island and one of only two residents. After a meet-cute with a hiker named Kayla (Linzey Cocker) earlier in the day he gets ready for a night out only to be interrupted by Clay’s arrival. The newcomer plays coy at first but soon reveals he’s there to take revenge on the ranger for a past transgression. One well-choreographed brawl later the two men retreat to the waterside to conclude their business, but Xander and his men throw a wrench into the mix, and soon Henry and Clay are forced to work together if they’re going to survive the madman’s environmentally sound assault.

Director Peter Hyams has worked with Van Damme twice before (Timecop, Sudden Death), but the nearly two decades since haven’t exactly been kind to either man. Hyams’ last “hit” was End of Days in ’99, and you have to go back even further for Van Damme’s last lead role success (Maximum Risk in 1996). Their reunion won’t be making a dent at the box-office, but on the bright side it’s a workman-like and relatively fun affair thanks to some solid fight scenes and Van Damme’s f*ck-all, carefree attitude.

There are plenty of gunfights, but thankfully Hyams appears to have picked up some pointers from his son John whose 2012 action flick, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, was elevated by spectacular hand-to-hand combat scenes. The fights here don’t come anywhere near that film’s level (which were due in part to star Scott Adkins’ skills), but they’re still well-crafted and clearly shot/edited for maximum enjoyment. Van Damme gets to display his still impressive skills, but most surprising are Jones’ action chops as he shows himself capable of some pretty sweet moves more than once.

They’re fun, but they’re not enough to forgive or forget the ridiculous script from newcomers Eric & James Bromberg. The dialogue is unintentionally humorous throughout with only Van Damme seemingly cognizant enough to have any fun with it. The others play it all completely straight and are the worse off for it as every line not spoken by the Muscles from Brussels falls flat. Everett Scott in particular seems especially lost. Remember when he was going to be the next Tom Hanks? He certainly doesn’t.

Even beyond the dialogue the script feels more like an outline than a finished product. The minor back story between Henry and Clay seems to be where all of the effort went as the rest is simply characters thrown together with no concern for explanation or depth. Aside from Xander’s ecological leanings (made repeatedly clear through verbal tangents and jokes about fair-trade coffee beans) we know nothing about the man. His plan would fit on the smallest of napkins, and its execution would get him booted from the League of Evil, but at least he knows how to kill a man with tree branches and compact discs. Everyone else’s actions, from the named characters down to I.C.E. Agent #2, are indefensibly dumb and/or illogical.

Enemies Closer isn’t a particularly memorable film, but Van Damme fans who want to see more of him than his Expendables cameos offer should give it a spin. He’s at his most charismatic as a villain where he can feel free to cut loose as an actor while still delivering on the physical hijinks.

The Upside: Jean-Claude Van Damme is having fun; solid fight scenes; Orlando Jones has moves

The Downside: Script is laughably bad in regard to both dialogue and plot

On the Side: Both Peter Hyams and his son John have directed Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier films.

grade_c_plus


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