Double Team

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Friday April 4, 1997

     "Double Team" offers a triple-threat trio in Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman and Mickey Rourke plus director Tsui Hark, the hallowed Hong Kong maestro of mayhem, that jump-starts the action-thriller genre, which could use some fresh juice. This is one slam-banger that looks to connect with action fans at home as well as abroad.
     Much is familiar--there seems to be an explosion a minute, for example--but writers Don Jakoby and Paul Mones prove ingenious in maneuvering Van Damme through a secret-agents-can-never-retire plot, and Hark, in his American debut, brings to it a most welcome light touch.
     Best of all, there's plenty of humor along the way, which plays to the strengths of both Rodman, who scores big in his first major screen role, and Hark, expert at combining comedy with endlessly inventive go-for-broke Hong Kong-style action. Gorgeously photographed European locales, principally Rome, are another asset. From Hong Kong, Hark brought another legend, Samo Hung, to serve as special action choreographer, and cinematographer Peter Pau, who shot Hark's hilarious "The Chinese Feast."
     Van Damme thinks he's retired as America's top counter-terrorist to his luxurious South of France villa with his pregnant wife, but we know better. He's yanked back into service to go after super bad guy Rourke and is taking aim at him when Rourke's little son rushes into his father's arms. Van Damme hesitates before shooting, then realizes to his horror that he's killed the child rather than the father.
     A couple of plot twists later, Van Damme teams up with Rodman, playing a CIA operative/Antwerp arms dealer every bit as flamboyant as the basketball star is in his own life. "Who does your hair," Van Damme asks, "Siegfried or Roy?"
     That Van Damme and Rourke are both family men, despite their ruthless trades, lends emotional intensity to the action, while Rodman provides the humor, as well as impressive backup for Van Damme. Rodman is more partner than sidekick, and he and Van Damme form a dynamic duo.
     "Double Team" is one of Van Damme's best, and he's the linchpin when all's said and done. Also in his best work in some time, Rourke is a nasty, brooding villain further enraged by the loss of his son. And Rodman is a natural for the movies. He's got a star's wit, personality and presence, and clearly his role has been tailor-made for him. (Amusingly, for much of the picture Rodman wears a well-cut suit, a tie and a fedora--classic attire that makes him look great.)
     All three stars are in shape to the max, with Rourke having beefed himself up considerably. "Double Team" marks Van Damme's third teaming with an ace Hong Kong director--Hark was preceded by John Woo ("Hard Target") and Ringo Lam ("Maximum Risk")-- and it is arguably the most effective.

Double Team, 1997. R, for nonstop action violence. A Columbia Pictures release of a Mandalay Entertainment presentation of a One Story Pictures production. Director Tsui Hark. Producer Moishe Diamant. Executive producers Don Jakoby and David Rodgers. Screenplay by Jakoby and Paul Mones, from a story by Jakoby. Cinematographer Peter Pau. Editor Bill Pankow. Costumes Magali Guidasci. Music Gary Chang. Production designer Marek Dobrowolski. Art director Damien Lanfranchi. Set decorator Christian Calviera. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Jean-Claude Van Damme as Quinn. Dennis Rodman as Yaz. Mickey Rourke as Stavros.

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