Growing up in the 80s I was a big fan of martial arts movies, and that meant, of course, that I was a big fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme. The first big movie to hook me was 1987’s Bloodsport (what else?), which really psyched me to amp up my taekwondo training, and from then on I faithfully watched all his movies up to Timecop, by which point I had begun getting into indie film and hipster cinema. It was time to put aside childish things. It was about The 400 Blows now, not body blows. Irony and avant-garde were the orders of the day; not the kind of unabashed, sincere desire to simply entertain that characterized JCVD’s movies.
Well, it’s good to be a kid again. And it’s good to be a fan again.
With the exceptions of JCVD and Kung Fu Panda 2 (which doesn’t even count, really) Enemies Closer is the first Van Damme film since Timecop that I’ve intentionally sought out to see. You see, whether he knows it or not, JCVD once did something tremendous for this site, and not that it makes a difference to him either way but I would like to reciprocate in some way if I can by making a point of covering his work.
Of course, being the first Van Damme movie I’ve seen in a while, the biggest thought that loomed in my head as I sat down for Enemies Closer was, “Oh, man, what if this is bad? Will I still want to review it?”
Happily, not only is it not bad it’s pretty darn good for a B-action film. It’s a taut, focused, old-school action thriller that serves as a nice break from the over-bloated action blockbusters that compete for space in theaters these days.
Enemies Closer follows the odd couple-buddy film trope of two guys who hate each other but are forced to work together to survive. Think Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones. Ex-Navy SEAL and park ranger Henry (Tom Everett Scott) is the caretaker of an island of which he is one of only two residents. Ex-convict Clay (Orlando Jones) pays the lonely ranger a visit to exact vengeance for neglecting to save the life of his younger brother back when Henry was still in the armed forces. Spoiling both of their plans for the evening are an eccentric nature-loving, environmentalist-cum-sociopath (Van Damme) and his band of French Canadian mercenaries trying to recover a shipment of drugs gone lost in a nearby lake.
For anyone who has ever watched non-native English speaking actors in films shot in their native tongue, you know what a difference it can sometimes make (JCVD being a prime example in Van Damme’s case). By allowing its multilingual star to speak in French half the time, Enemies Closer is able to tap into a certain natural charisma JCVD has that many non-European viewers may be less familiar with. For those unwilling to see foreign language films (and you might be surprised how many such people there are), this movie’s an easy way to see the Muscles from Brussels strut his stuff in a language that comes more naturally to him. The difference is palpable.
Now, the keystone of any Van Damme film is, of course, the hand-to-hand fight scenes. Unfortunately, except for a cool early scene in which JCVD takes on an entire unit of border patrolmen single-handedly, the bulk of the fight scenes in Enemies Closer take place in darkness and shadows, a personal beef of mine when it comes to action films. I want to clearly see the often beautiful, intricate fight choreography and the genuinely impressive stunts by the 53-year-old JCVD that go into these scenes. They lose much of their impact when lit so darkly, atmospheric as that may be.
Still, this is an enjoyable, small-scale popcorn flick that that doesn’t seek to be anything more than what it is, and what it is should quite please JCVD’s legion of loyal, enthusiastic fans.
I really admire Jean-Claude Van Damme. I admire his determination, commitment to hard work, and genuine devotion to his fans. I’m pleased to give Enemies Closer my honest thumbs-up, hope it does well and am looking forward to the master of epic splits’ next movie, the comedy Welcome to the Jungle.