Director: Simon Fellows
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Julie Cox, Alan McKenna, William Tapley, Razaaq Adoti, Velibor Topic, Warren Derosa, Ian Virgo, Raffaello Degruttola Raffaello Degruttola, Serban Celea, Vlad Ivanov, Vlad Ivanov, Razvan Oprea, Mihai Bisericanu, Elizabeth Barondes, Colin Stinton
Running Time: 92 min.
By Kyle Warner
After reading the post by Jeff Bona on the influential career in action movies that Jean-Claude Van Damme has had (“The Most ‘Remade’ Action Star”), I realized that I’d only seen a small number of the actor’s films. So, I decided to change that, and over the past six months I’ve caught up with a lot of the JCVD films I’ve missed over the years. In doing so, I became a fan of the guy, and was introduced to many good movies and more than a few bad ones.
… Second in Command is one of the bad ones.
In my time exploring the filmography of Van Damme, the star has worked with many high-concept ideas but rarely seems to deal with important, real-world issues. Second in Command is one of the rare political action movies that I’ve seen starring The Muscles from Brussels. However, its attempt to convey a political message beyond ‘Americans good, communists bad’ never fully develops (in fact, I’m not sure there even is a message beyond that). For a movie that begins with the burning of the American flag, things soon play out very safe and predictable. That flag burning is an act of protest that’s amusingly largely ignored by traffic and civilians and only has one photographer present to document it all. A protest lacking an audience seems to defeat the point of having a protest, I would think… Oohhh, I know. Maybe the lack of an audience for the protesters reflects the lack of an audience for the movie. How’s that for film criticism?
Second in Command basically plays out like the season premiere of a particularly unimaginative season of 24. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays the French-accent version of Jack Bauer by the name of Commander Samuel Keenan and he comes with Jack’s reputation for going rogue, surviving ticking clock scenarios, and a tendency to piss off terrorists wherever he goes. Sam Keenan’s been called into the small Eastern European nation of Moldavia to join the US Embassy there. Not long after he arrives, a faction representing the country’s communist past rises up and attempts to overthrow the government. Because the Moldavian President’s military is conveniently off doing training exercises in the mountains, it’s up to the good ol’ US-of-A to step in and save the day. Sam Keenan swoops in, picks up the President, and returns him to the US Embassy where they will endure a last stand and wait for backup to arrive. Second in Command thinks its situation is a bit like The Alamo. “Good movie,” says one character. No one will be saying that about this film.
The film clearly lacks a decent budget but that doesn’t explain some of its poor decision making. Beyond Van Damme, the cast is made up of mostly no-name actors—and I have nothing against that—but many of them are no good. More puzzling is how many actors resemble each other. You’d think that if you don’t have the cash for bigger names that you’d go for diversity and variety in your cast. Nope. Two villains look enough alike that I thought they were the same guy until I saw them in two different places. The way the film is shot also shows some odd choices. It switches from the usual camerawork to a camera that’s meant to remind the viewer of live news broadcast. Instead, it just draws attention to its lack of money and looks more like something shot on video. On top of all that, the film’s editing is frantic, completely chopping up otherwise impressive explosions or stunt pieces (one part has an RPG blowing a hole in the embassy—it looks good but the editing ruins it, trying to show the sequence from a dozen unnecessary angles). Sometimes it even jumps between the different film styles during these moments of action, throwing me completely out of the movie. It’s annoying when a film manages to look even cheaper than it probably actually is.
Let’s talk about Van Damme for a moment, since he’s the main reason someone would think to pick this up. I can’t remember the actor ever looking so bored on screen before. There’s no fire there. His gaze remains vacant even during the scenes that are supposed to be dramatic shifting points, like he’s already dreaming of being far away. As far as the action goes, most the film is limited to dull gunfights. Only in the finale do we see the martial arts Van Damme’s known for. It’s not a bad scene but it’s definitely not worth the wait. However, that fight is performed inside the US Embassy with an active sprinkler system, which basically allows JCVD to have a fight in the rain INDOORS. So, check that one off the fight scene bucket list, I guess.
It’s basically a bad movie from top to bottom. As I work my way through the films of Jean-Claude Van Damme, it’s sometimes difficult to tell which ones should be skipped. Well, here’s one of the skippable films. Second in Command is dull as dishwater… Hmm. You know, now that I’m thinking about it, what has dishwater ever done to get the reputation of being dull? I really can’t say it deserves such a rep. It’s nasty and I gotta use gloves because damn, what if there’s a piece of a noodle floating around in there? Like the garbage compacter from Star Wars, my dishwater is never dull. Second in Command sure is, though! So, I say we grant dishwater a reprieve. It’s suffered a false reputation for far too long. From now on I shall say that something is ‘dull as Second in Command.’ No one will know what the hell I’m talking about, but I’ll know… Oh yes, I’ll know…
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 3/10