Jean-Claude Van Damme’s The Quest is a decidedly mixed bag, a self-consciously old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure that insistently aims at a primary target audience of boys and young adolescents. Blend of genres and styles is diverting without being truly absorbing or engaging.
Van Damme plays Chris Dubois, an honest, idealistic street criminal who embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery that literally spans the globe, from the slums of New York City to the mysterious magic of Tibet’s Lost City.
Beginning in ’20s New York in darkly lit scenes that are meant to evoke Oliver Twist, Dubois is forced to leave his surrogate family of orphaned children. Kidnapped and enslaved by gun smugglers, Dubois is rescued by a classic rapscallion pirate, Dobbs (Roger Moore), and his fat right-hand man, Harry (Jack McGee), who in turn sell him in servitude to Khao (Aki Aleong), Muay Thai island’s master of kickboxing, who trains him in the martial arts. Moore plays his role with characteristic cool but with a tad of over-the-top campiness.
A beautiful blond reporter, Carrie (Janet Gunn), is thrown into the mix to provide romantic interest for Dubois; for yet another hue, the humdrum tale brings in Maxie (James Remar), the world heavyweight boxing champion, who’s both a threat and a challenge for Dubois. Culminating in the Lost City, Dubois’ odyssey becomes a test of honor and manhood in the mythic ‘Ghan-gheng,’ an ancient winner-take-all competition.
Having choreographed his own battles and stunts for years, Van Damme’s move into the director’s chair is not a surprising development. Framed by a contempo prologue and epilogue, The Quest is not badly directed or executed.