The Quest (1996)

The Quest is a surprisingly decent Jean Claude Van-Damme movie.

Quest is a period piece, and a pretty well-done one at that. Taking place shortly after World War I, Van Damme plays Chris Dubois, a humble indentured servant figure with Rocky-like ambitions to become a big fighting champion. Dubois has set his sights on some very elite and secret tournament in some mystical forbidden city, to which only the best fighter in every country of the world gets an invitation.

To get into the tournament, Dubois enlists the help of a mischievous figure, Lord Dobbs. In one of the many parts of the plot I was unable to follow, Lord Dobbs owes him some unknown favor so he buys his freedom and makes arrangements to get the kid to Beijing, with the aide of an attractive blonde newspaper editor, Carrie Newton (Gunn).

Dobbs is played by seven-time James Bond alumni Roger Moore, who I’m so used to seeing as Bond that I half-expected him to, at a crucial point in the movie, bag the attractive news lady, beat someone up, or use some cool gadget. Sadly, Moore only accomplishes one of these three things (uses a cool gadget) and fails miserably at it. However, Moore does carry one James Bond-like trait to this part which is being a smooth talker which gets Dubois in trouble in the first place. Apparently, Dubois was never really entered into the tournament, so he must win over the guy who’s slated to fight for the U.S. and get his invitation, which raises the question, isn’t Dubois French?

Anyway, there’s no reason to fret over little things like that, because considering the plot is secondary to the action, it’s pretty well-thought out, and besides the action doesn’t disappoint.

The tournament where most of the actions scenes come from is probably my favorite thing about the movie because the single elimination bracketed format has the same thrill as watching something like NCAA’s March Madness. The only difference is that except for rooting for your favorite colleges, you root for Industrial Era superpowers. The other plus of this was that the clashing of such a diverse array of fighting styles (sumo wrestling, Scottish fist fighting, Brazillian street fighting, and the like) led to some great action scenes.

My main complaint about the action is that Van Damme’s fight scenes attempt to create suspense by him being knocked down and then supposedly against our expectations, getting back up and winning. This just becomes predictable, and besides, because the Master of Ceremonies usually hits the gong after a guy gets knocked down, Dubois would have realistically been out in the second round after getting the crap beat out of him by the Spaniard. Even if he did get back up, he wouldn’t have been able to overpower the other guy after having taken so many hits. If he is such a skillful fighter, why doesn’t he just win the fight efficiently without all the drama? He reminds me of the present-day LA Lakers who slack off the entire regular season, knowing that they only really have to work during the playoffs.

This gag would have been an effective if it was restricted to only happening in the film’s climatic finale. Instead, to top the earlier fights, the tournament’s final match really got to be a disappointment. The master of ceremonies was incredibly generous with the gong, deciding to let the fight continue even after Dubois got knocked down twice and kicked out of the ring, where he is beaten up some more and magically throws in a couple kicks at the right moment and walks away with the medallion.

Anyway, the film is a decently played out story that has its moments.