While his days as a big screen action hero seem to have passed, Jean-Claude Van Damme makes a damn fine villain, as illustrated in the new thriller Enemies Closer. While this reunion with director Peter Hyams will hardly match the commercial impact of such previous collaborations as Timecop and Sudden Death, it’s the sort of efficient B-movie that would have made a fine bottom half of a double-bill in years past but is now relegated to a minimal theatrical release and VOD.
Sporting an unflattering mop of red hair, the 53-year-old Van Damme is still a highly impressive physical specimen, even if he doesn’t get to show it off here with nearly the same impact as his recent Volvo television commercial. The “Muscles from Brussels” plays Xander, a drug smuggler desperate to retrieve a huge stash of heroin that went down with a small plane in a lake off an island near the U.S.-Canadian border.
Patrolling the island in solitary fashion is park ranger Henry (Tom Everett Scott), whose affable demeanor doesn’t suggest the trauma he went through years earlier as a Navy SEAL. Even as Xander shows up with his gang of henchmen, Henry has to deal with a problem of his own in the form of Clay (Orlando Jones, who also co-produced), an ex-con intent on getting revenge for the death of his younger brother who was serving under Henry’s command.
The two men quickly form a reluctant alliance — hence the title — as they team up to battle the psychotically crazed Xander, a vegan who thoughtfully worries about his gang’s carbon footprint even while they’re mercilessly dispatching anyone who gets in their way.
Clearly relishing his role, Van Damme once again shows off his flair for deadpan comedy, casually tossing off witticisms — “He’s the one who needs help, he just doesn’t know it,” he says to one of his cohorts attempting to lend a hand during a brutal fight — and snapping necks with the elan of a chiropractor.
The plot, which also involves a lone elderly resident (Christopher Robbie) of the island (“Kiss my geriatric ass,” he taunts one of Xander’s goons) and a comely hiker (Linzey Cocker) who takes a shine to Henry, is more convoluted than it needs to be, and the baby-faced Scott is never quite convincing in macho mode. But director Hyams, who also served as the director of photography, keeps things moving briskly with his usual solid professionalism. The numerous fight sequences are well choreographed and cleanly shot, displaying an exciting visual cohesiveness too often lacking in most of today’s frenetically edited action films.
Production companies: Lionsgate, After Dark Films, Signature Entertainment
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tom Everett Scott, Linzey Cocker, Christopher Robbie, Orlando Jones
Director/director of photography: Peter Hyams
Screenwriters: Eric Bromberg, James Bromberg
Producers: Moshe Diamant, Courtney Solomon, Orlando Jones
Executive producers: Bobby Ranghelov, Stephanie Caleb
Editor: John Hyams
Production designer: Phillip Harrison
Costume designer: Irina Kotcheva
Composer: Tony Morales
Rated R, 85 min.