Review: Enemies Closer
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays the psycho vegan (!) drug cartel head leading his men to a forest area on the US-Canadian border dressed as Mounties looking for a missing drug shipment. Tom Everett Scott plays the former frogman with a traumatic past who has escaped to a quieter existence as a park ranger on a remote island area (somewhat of a tourist attraction for people who are boring as fuck and don’t like electricity I guess) near where all of this is happing. Then Orlando Jones busts into his cabin one night, and it’s not for a friendly chit-chat. You see, Jones holds Scott personally responsible for a past tragedy that affected his family, and has come to kill him. Before Jones can exact his revenge/twisted justice, the two men soon realise that there are more pressing matters like the nasty drug-runners nearby who need experienced diver Scott’s retrieval skills to bring up the missing heroin and aren’t going to ask politely. They also likely don’t give a fuck about Jones and will kill him at the first opportunity. Linzey Cocker plays a cutesy hiker whom Scott previously helped out, and hopes to repay him with a dinner date later in the evening and presumed subsequent coitus. Yeah, that might have to be postponed for now, cupcake. In smaller roles, Christopher Robbie is fun as a crusty old coot who is the only other permanent resident (and wants to be left the absolute fuck alone), while Van Damme’s son Kris plays a wounded member of his crew, and Zachary Baharov plays another one of Van Damme’s men (Thankfully Mr. Baharov is a pretty good fighter given the Bulgarian actor’s very thick accent largely gets in the way otherwise).
Y’know what one of the biggest differences between Jean-Claude Van Damme’s direct-to-DVD output and Steven Seagal’s is? No one ever claims that Seagal’s performance is the best thing about a film. Hell, they never said it about his films from his cinematic release years, either. So it is that in this 2013 flick from director/cinematographer Peter Hyams (“Capricorn One”, “Outland”, “Timecop”, “Sudden Death”), red-haired Jean-Claude Van Damme’s off-the-wall bad guy is far and away the chief asset here. His first appearance with a shock of red hair and a Mountie’s uniform is hilarious. Then he starts talking and…boy is this guy eccentric. He’s got a Billy Drago vibe about him here where he almost seems high on something. It’s not often that JCVD plays villains, but when he does he usually kills it (“Replicant” and “The Expendables 2” for instance). That’s the case here in a performance that suggests he’s having a whale of a time. He doesn’t get a lot of opportunities this time out to flex his action star muscles, but he appears as though he can still do it without much (if any) need for stunt doubles or too much camera trickfuckeryTM. Also, as funny as he is, he doesn’t forget to make this guy unpredictable and volatile. Off his rocker or not, this guy can still get shit done. Best of all, as a meat eater having the villain be a vegan psycho killer just warmed my heart.
In the good guy role, it’s interesting to find Tom Everett Scott here. This guy looked like he was going to be the next Tom Hanks after co-starring with him in Hanks’ directorial debut “That Thing You Do!”, but…life doesn’t always go as planned, I guess. It never happened, and now here he is headlining a straight-to-DVD Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. He gets to be involved in the action, and while a fight scene with Orlando Jones shows pretty clear evidence of stunt doubles, he still proves more credible in the part than you might think at first glance. More importantly, he’s very likeable, and while he might seem an unlikely choice for this kind of thing, at least his character is written to be a former frogman who can handle himself in a skirmish. I do kinda wish that a real martial arts actor like Scott Adkins had been given the part, however so that you wouldn’t be distracted by the stunt doubles. Keeping with the waning stars theme, Orlando Jones is here to add plot complication as the disgruntled brother of a dead soldier, although he eventually becomes the stereotypical African-American partner/sidekick 80s action staple when you think about it. I don’t think he’s especially convincing in such a non-comedic role, but at least it adds an extra half-wrinkle and cleverly ties into the film’s title as he and Scott are forced to become reluctant partners. I would’ve liked it if the film had kept the character consistent throughout, but it’s understandable that the plot dictates a less complex character I suppose. It’s just a little much that I’m asked to accept a physically abusive parental figure and ex-con who was prepared to commit murder, as a pretty clear-cut protagonist after a while.
As for the filmmaking side of things, it’s obvious that someone with a decent grasp of the basics of both direction and photography is at the helm. While shooting in shadow at one point doesn’t help convince me Scott is an MMA expert, there’s no doubting Hyams knows how to shoot/light a film attractively (Mostly shot at night, it’s never too dark to see). It’s a good-looking and effectively helmed film, though I think Hyams probably should’ve gone a little lighter on the MMA takedowns and varied the fighting styles a little more. Edited by his filmmaker son Jon (who directed JCVD in “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” and the completely nucking futs “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”), it actually moves at a pretty good clip. It’s a good thing too, because aside from technical proficiency and JCVD’s off-the-wall performance, we’re left with a pretty familiar plot/structure via first-time screenwriters Eric and James Bromberg that is probably the film’s weakest aspect. Outside of one genuinely surprising plot twist that got completely by me (apparently I’m the only one), it’s nothing you haven’t seen a billion times before, just this time with a carrot-top psycho vegan (and environmentalist) Jean-Claude Van Damme. Like I said at the outset, he’s the highlight of the film. If you’re still keeping up with his career, this isn’t one of his better latter-day films but it’s certainly one of his more enjoyable performances. It’s a fun movie, but it’d be so much less fun without his eccentric efforts.