AKA: The Colony
Director: Tsui Hark
Writer: Don Jakoby, Paul Mones
Producer: Moshe Diamant, David Rodgers
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Paul Freeman, Mickey Rourke, Hung Yan Yan, Natacha Lindinger, Valéria Cavalli, Jay Benedict, Joëlle Devaux-Vullion
Running Time: 93 min.
By Zach Nix
International action star Jean-Claude Van Damme (Pound of Flesh) was on a cinematic roll through the late 80s and into the mid 90s. Although few of his films were ever as good or as successful as the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, almost every one of Van Damme’s films were commercially successful. Unfortunately, Van Damme’s hot streak came to an end in the late 90s with two of his most commercially disappointing films, Double Team and Knock Off. These films signaled the end of Van Damme’s theatrical career due to their inept plots and poor box office receipts. Van Damme followed up said films with even more disappointing efforts such as Universal Soldier: The Return and his first entries into the direct to video/limited theatrical market, Legionnaire and Desert Heat.
Even though Double Team started Van Damme’s slippery slope away from mainstream success, the film is more entertaining than most of his successful theatrical efforts. Directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), Double Team is a highly stylized, although immensely inept, actioner that needs to be rediscovered by action fans for its awesome action sequences and utter insanity. It is arguably the wildest entry in Van Damme’s filmography and an undiscovered cult classic to boot.
The biggest hurdle with tackling Double Team is deciphering its plot because it is nearly impossible to recall said plot or even understand it while watching the film. Hark immediately drops the viewer into the life of government anti-terrorist agent Jack Quinn (Van Damme) as he retrieves stolen plutonium in an extended action sequence that also doubles as the film’s credits. As to who decided it was a good idea to lay credits over an action sequence is beyond me.
Anyways, the film gets into the thick of things once Quinn goes after terrorist Stavros (Mickey Rourke) who is also apparently his nemesis. When Quinn and his men track down Stavros and his family to a theme park, a shootout engages and Stavros’ son is caught in the crossfire. Unfortunately, Quinn fails to capture Stavros and is sent to a prison island for failed agents who are too valuable to kill. Therefore, Quinn must make his way off of the “inescapable” island and save his wife Kathryn from Stavros’ vengeance. Oh, and an arms dealer played by basketball player Dennis Rodman somehow fits into all of this.
Wow, where to begin with this one? The plot, or what resembles a plot, is all over the place and absolutely bonkers. Double Team tries to combine three films of entertainment into one but to no avail. It’s as if Hark and the screenwriters couldn’t decide on a revenge film, a prison escape film, or a buddy film, and decided to blend all of them together and call it Double Team. Even though the film’s poster, trailer, and title advertise it as a buddy picture between Van Damme and Dennis Rodman, Double Team is anything but. It is as if Hark crafted a ‘versus film’ between Van Damme and Rourke, and than decided to tack on a buddy element at the last minute and wedge it into the plot however possible.
Van Damme and Dennis Rodman are truly the most mismatched buddy pairing of all time. Even though nobody asked for a team up of ‘The Muscles from Brussels’ and ‘The Worm,’ Double Team delivers exactly that and with no chemistry to boot. While Van Damme does a fine job, as he is always on point no matter how bad the film, Rodman proves that he should never act thanks to a bevy of awful basketball puns. Rodman is equally as bad an actor as other fellow basketball players turned actors Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’ Neal, but he is at least far more fascinating thanks to his ridiculous ever changing hair color and wild outfits. Rodman’s arms dealer character is truly the most fascinating element of the film, as his character serves the plot in no way, shape, or form. He joins up with Van Damme’s character to help him save his wife and child simply because “he likes danger.” Regardless, Rodman’s presence adds to the film’s bizarre charm, as well as Hark’s knack for automated dialog replacement (ADR).
Not since Steven Seagal’s On Deadly Ground has an action film featured so much dialog from characters completely off screen. The amount of ADR in this film is absolutely baffling, especially during Rodman and Rourke’s dialog scenes. They typically have their back to the camera, are far away within the shot, or are nowhere in sight, and yet they sound as if they were standing right next to you. This large amount of ADR is due to Hark’s fast paced shooting style that results in lots of voice dubbing during the post-production process. Still, the insane amount of ADR adds to Double Team’s cult-like attraction.
Hark, a Hong Kong filmmaker, brings his flair for over the top theatrics to the film and crafts numerous excellent action sequences. Even though Double Team may be boring at times, Hark blesses the viewer with an action sequence every fifteen or so minutes to help get them through the film’s thankfully short run time. All of Hong Kong’s flair for over the top action is here: characters leap through windows while firing guns, launch motorcycles and cars through explosions, and perform flips and kicks while firing weapons. Any action fan would be cheating them selves to ignore Double Team based purely upon its immensely entertaining action sequences. Unfortunately, the film also features a large assortment of crazy Dutch angles and occasionally awful framing that prevents some of its action sequences from even being visually legible. Regardless, these odd creative decisions, coupled with the film’s amazing action sequences, help make Double Team that much more entertaining and fun to experience.
Double Team is a mess, but an oddly fascinating and extremely entertaining mess if there ever was one. Regardless of the film’s failure at the box office and the critical backlash it received in 1997, few Van Damme films, and action films in general, are as entertaining and fascinating to watch as Double Team. The film presents a cartoon-like world of changing hair-dos, bonkers action sequences, and crazy characters that help make it one of cinema’s greatest undiscovered cult flicks. I’d much rather watch an energetic mess of a film like Double Team than sleep my way through dull but commercially successful Van Damme efforts like Death Warrant, Nowhere to Run, or Timecop any day.
Zach Nix’s Rating: 6/10