Jean-Claude Van Damme hams it up cheerfully in a rare villainous turn in “Enemies Closer,” an unremarkable but entirely serviceable action quickie that reunites the Muscles from Brussels with analog action specialist Peter Hyams, who directed Van Damme in two of his better big-studio starring vehicles: “Timecop” (1994) and “Sudden Death” (1995). Save for a considerably lower budget, “Enemies” might well have rolled off the same assembly line, making for a silly yet sturdily crafted time-filler, lacking the shrewd, self-aware qualities of Van Damme’s recent “JCVD” and “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” (directed by Hyams’ son, John), but still well above most of the star’s latter-day direct-to-video efforts. Sure to generate less buzz than Van Damme’s recent Volvo commercial, the pic goes out via Lionsgate in limited theatrical and VOD release this Friday.
Sporting a Beethoven-esque mane of poofy, reddish-brown hair, speaking many of his lines in his native French, and prancing about with a fey spring in his step, Van Damme appears to be having a grand old time as Xander, a ruthless French-Canadian drug dealer who, when not dispensing mercilessly with his foes, preaches the virtues of vegan living and stopping to smell the roses (or, as the case may be, the wild strawberries). In the pic’s opening moments, a small, single-engine plane is seen crashing into a lake along the U.S.-Canada border (actually Bulgaria), and it’s the cargo on this plane — 50 pounds of uncut heroin — that Xander seeks to retrieve by any means necessary.
But wait, there’s more! Though it already has enough plot for most action movies, the script by Eric and James Bromberg introduces an entire parallel storyline concerning Henry (Tom Everett Scott), an ex-Navy diver traumatized by the carnage he witnessed in Afghanistan, now working as a U.S. park ranger — in, of course, the very same park where Xander’s heroin lies at the bottom of the lake. But long before Henry becomes a pawn in Xander’s scheme, he gets held at gunpoint by Clay (Orlando Jones), the brother of a soldier who died on Henry’s watch, who’s now come to seek his revenge. What, do you think, are the chances these two will eventually join forces against a common threat?
Of course, Van Damme’s movies have never been big on inner logic: As long as the limbs keep flying with (literal) breakneck speed, it doesn’t much matter how we get there. And while “Enemies Closer” may not offer a single setpiece as memorable as “Sudden Death’s” mano-a-mano kitchen duel between Van Damme and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ costumed mascot, its 53-year-old star still proves surprisingly agile and quick on — and with — his feet. Despite having helmed lots of subpar material over the years, Hyams (“Outland,” “The Star Chamber”) was always adept at crafting a solid action sequence, and proves he can still do so here, with a relieved minimum of swooshing pans and rapid-fire cutting. Van Damme, who began his bigscreen career playing a baddie (in 1984’s cult karate drama “No Retreat No Surrender”), but has done so only a couple of times since (including recently, in “The Expendables 2”), should consider flirting with his dark side more often; it clearly becomes him.
Cast against comic type, Jones (also credited as a producer) acquits himself reasonably well, while English actress Linzey Cocker seems rather adrift as the requisite damsel-in-distress-cum-femme-fatale. Hyams, who as usual also served as his own cinematographer, gives the production a crisp, sleek, professional sheen, especially in the night exterior scenes.