Welcome to "I'll Be Van Dammed!", part 2 in a series of illustrated reviews of the films of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
I was doing hard time in elementary school when Death Warrant came out in 1990. French Canadian Detective Louis Burke is sent in undercover to a California prison to solve the case of the dying prisoners. Attorney badass Amanda Beckett visits him in jail pretending to be his wife. Louis breaks down the walls of race, sexuality, and gender as he befriends Hawkins and (the real star of the movie) the Priest. The Priest and his trans army help Louis discover prisoners are being killed for their organs! And the guards, police, and government are in on it! Amanda conducts her own investigation with the help of the "Computer Cowboy", a prepubescent hacker that has one thing on his mind: diving deep into Amanda's pants. He is swiftly shut down, how could he compete when Van Damme turns on the charm during Amanda's conjugal visit? They expose themselves as a steamy symbolic gesture of how they are going to expose everyone involved in this case. Then the movie goes into fantasyland as the Priest is taken out, and there's some kind of battle.
Fashion: Abdul Salaam El Razzac is a style icon as the Priest. His outfits and accessories are way out there, and he's got those claws too. Cynthia Gibb is styling as Amanda - huge shoulders and tucked in blouses, love her hairdo too.
Death Warrant is very good. What makes it unique is the large, very talented supporting cast. I love how the heroes are an army of black trans prisoners and the villains are the government, police, and prison guards. Amanda is also unique in the VanDamme-verse as she handles her own investigation without him. It's a very scary story, with gritty sets and atmosphere. The arch nemesis storyline is unnecessary, the end fight is dull, but overall... GOOD!
Nowhere to Run
Nowhere to Run is how you feel when you start watching this movie from 1993. Van Damme brings to life Sam Gillen, an escaped convict with a heart of gold that becomes involved in Clydie Anderson's battle against an evil real-estate company. They need her farmland, and they're willing to hire "Buffalo Bill" from Silence of the Lambs to get it! Sam warms his way into the Anderson family by exposing himself to the children, putting out fires, and watching Clydie scrub down a horse. His own numerous baths are interrupted, which provides lively discussion at the dinner table about the size of his privates. When Clydie calls it just "average", he vows retribution! They do the wild thing and that matter is settled. When her son Mookie finds out Sam spent the night and won't be up for a few more hours, he exclaims "A few more hours? What did you DO to him?" Then Sam jumps on his motorcycle really fast, and defeats the greedy company with a very inspirational car door to the nuts.
Fashion: Van Damme birthday suit, throughout.
Is Nowhere to Run worth seeing? The great actors, direction, and music are all wrapped up into a horse bathing romance novel. Man vs machine vs horse (like Adaptation), if that sounds funny to you then hop on this motorcycle! Sean Gill has a hilarious review of the movie on his blog that has many of the reasons why it's awesome. I will add, the family dynamic is notable. Maybe it's healthier for families to be so open about the topic of sex. There's also some real deep social commentary as the family's game of Monopoly is interrupted by the greedy company trying to monopolize the land.
Jean-Claude Van Damme takes a Maximum Risk in 1996 by playing twins again, but this time... it's different! Alain is a French cop that is pulled into a case by his friend Sebastien because he's the spitting image of a person that was murdered. He heads to NY and learns of his twin brother that was Russian mafia. He vows retribution... FAMILY STYLE! The girlfriend of his dead brother, Alex, DEFINITELY has a type as she falls for Alain next. During their investigation, Alain battles all sorts of goons, most notable is the blonde muscle man that walks through fire and brimstone. Eventually, Alain discovers the FBI was in on his twin's death, so he gets naked and goes in a sauna with the Russian mafia. Showdown in tiny towels time! The FBI agents capture Alain and Alex, and listen in on their maximum sex, which abruptly cuts to a shot of a huge clock (did he give her Le Grande Ben?). There's a shootout at a bank, with barbecued mafioso. How do they top all that? Chainsaw fight in a meat freezer!!! In a rare turn of events, there's a denouement scene showing Alex and Alain walking through a park holding hands.
Fashion: They really tried in this movie. The bad guys all have scarves and fancy suits. There's a lot of huge trench coats. Alex has a very bizarre cheetah top with leather lapel and big square hat.
Maximum Risk is worth seeing, even if you don't care for JCVD. It's one of the best action movies I've ever seen, and it looks like the Jason Bourne movies were heavily inspired by it. Ringo Lam is a really great director, there's also solid art direction throughout, and the bad guys are so good. This is also a different character for Van Damme, a much more subtle performance. I was also very shocked it had a proper ending. Most of his movies are just abandoned with an abrupt cut once the bad guy is slain.
Van Damme couldn't keep teaming up with himself, so they paired him with Dennis Rodman in the 1997 avant-garde classic Double Team. Van Damme plays a retired terrorist agent named Jack Quinn, that gets pulled back in for one last case against his nemesis Stavros (Mickey Rourke). He swears retribution!... but needs help, so he goes to an S&M aquarium to find Yaz (Dennis Rodman) and stock up on weapons. I can't go on trying to makes sense of this movie, suffice to say Quinn is kidnapped and escapes by having sex with a bathtub. The showdown with Stavros takes place in a Roman amphitheater minefield. Yaz is zipping around on a motorcycle, avoiding the mines and a man eating tiger, as Quinn tricks Stavros to step on one of the mines. They are spared an explosive death by hiding behind a Coca-Cola vending machine. I don't think the tiger made it out alive, unless there was another vending machine nearby.
Fashion: Dennis Rodman is an overstuffed cabbage of awesome threads and hairdos. I'd like to think he dressed himself for this, every scene has a new look. There's a pretty sweet Roman statue muscle vest he throws on at one point. They even get him in formalwear. Well done!
Not only should you watch Double Team, but you need to watch the bathtub scene right now. It's so disturbing and weird. I honestly believe he was upping his weirdness game to compete with Rodman's presence. JCVD won that battle for sure, but at what cost? Stavros is a really lame bad guy, so they threw a tiger into the mix. Double Team reaches heights of silliness that have never been seen before or since. It's hard to believe this was from the same director as "Once Upon a Time in China", both are masterpieces for different reasons.
Want more Van Damme? Follow @SilentJamesLive and #IllBeVanDammed on instagram to see my process, here's part one, and stay tuned for more finished pieces in the series. Thank you for going on this illustrated journey with me and the "Muscles from Brussels".
Did you know you can commission me to create illustrations for you or your event? Contact me today, and let's make our own "Double Team"!