Review: Van Damme Goes Violently Vegan In ENEMIES CLOSER
Jean Claude Van Damme is gleefully deranged in Peter Hyams' no-frills Friday night beat-em up, in which a park ranger and vengeful ex-con form an uneasy alliance against a gang of marauding mercenaries on the Canadian border.
The last decade has been a barren period for director Peter Hyams, who was responsible for the likes of Outland, 2010 and Schwarzenengger's End Of Days, as well as the superior Van Damme vehicles Time Cop and Sudden Death. Recent years have seen Hyams' son John take up the baton and score impressive hits in the DTV action market, most notably helming Van Damme in the two most recent Universal Soldier sequels.
Here John serves as editor for his father, while Van Damme delivers his best performance since Mabrouk El Mechri's self-reflexive JCVD back in 2008. His French-Canadian mercenary Xander is a self-proclaimed vegan who cherishes organic produce and fair trade coffee, while refusing to handle firearms. He's also a psychopathic drug smuggler in search of a downed plane in the waters along the US-Canadian border.
Meanwhile, Henry (Tom Everett Scott), the lone park ranger on the solitary King's Island is a tortured former Navy SEAL, living an almost monastic life after a calamitous tour of duty in Afghanistan. His past comes to the fore when vengeful ex-con Clay (Orlando Jones) appears on Henry's doorstep, looking to avenge the death of his brother, which happened under Henry's command. Before Clay is able to exact his revenge, however, Xander and his gang appear on the scene, forcing them into an uneasy alliance if they are to make it through the night alive.
While it's an initially intriguing premise, Enemies Closer is more interested in seeing Van Damme run rampant than developing the nuances of Henry and Clay's fraught relationship. The dialogue is often clunky and riddled with exposition, with numerous lapses in logic along the way to service the action rather than the drama. Not that anyone is complaining, as a film like this serves a single purpose - to deliver action and entertainment - and the target crowd can rest assured they will receive a modest but worthwhile return on that promise.
Van Damme's gang of stooges includes his son, Kris Van Damme, as well as Bulgarian actor Zahari Baharov, seen previously in Universal Soldier: Regeneration and the excellent Zift. The film was shot, as is the trend these days, in Bulgaria, which does a fine job doubling for the lush wilderness of Canada. Linzey Cocker is the token female caught up in the proceedings, and the British actress manages not only to pull off a convincing American accent, but also make her role more interesting and memorable than anticipated.
Tom Everett Scott gets the fairly thankless hero role of Henry, who is given little opportunity to wrestle with his past, nor struggle with the decision to get back into the action. He doesn't even seem particularly bothered when Clay appears on his doorstep looking to kill him. Orlando Jones makes the flawed and untrustworthy Clay more interesting, but again, the script largely wastes its opportunities to explore this central relationship and how it evolves during the film.
Instead, we can marvel at Van Damme dressed as a Mounty, with a tangled blonde mane that seems to have a life all of its own, and delight in his willingness to play a ridiculous, scenery-chewing bad guy. While we've seen JCVD play villains before, in the likes of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and Expendables 2, here he actually seems to be enjoying himself. The fight choreography, from seasoned veteran Borislav Iliev, also gives Van Damme plenty of opportunity to show us that at 53 he can still use his body in ways none of us ever could.
While Enemies Closer is certainly a low budget independent production, it ticks enough of the right boxes to entertain its intended audience. John Hyams' editing keeps things moving, while Eric and James Bromberg's script strips the narrative right to the bone. It is here in the DTV arena where the most exciting things in English language action movies are happening right now, and it's filmmakers like Isaac Florentine and the Hyams family that are making them happen. We would be well advised to keep these friends close and pay attention.