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Double Damme

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Alan Markfield

Steamed in the Bath: Jean-Claude Van Damme gets worked up when bad guy Stefanos Miltsakakis interrupts his shower in "Maximum Risk."

Ringo Lam brings Hong Kong pace to Van Damme's latest actioner

By Richard von Busack

SINCE MODERN action movies are as alike as knobs on a blackberry, the little differences mean a lot. Maximum Risk is much better than the average actioner because of its details rather than its plot. This is the first Jean-Claude Van Damme movie that can be watched without pain, let alone with pleasure. Van Damme hasn't improved as an actor, but the maturity of his face substitutes for skill. He's starting to look as if he's had some experiences in life.

Maximum Risk doesn't clobber you with its soundtrack; it doesn't make the heroine a complete bimbo; and it isn't shot in any of the usual places. The credit goes mostly to Van Damme's new director, Ringo Lam. You don't expect depth from someone named Ringo, but you do expect speed and rhythm, and Lam doesn't disappoint. This is the former Hong Kong director's first American film, and unlike his compatriot John Woo (Broken Arrow), Lam has managed to import the old Hong Kong velocity with him.

After a chase, the body of a French policeman named Alain Moreau (Van Damme) is found in Nice. But Alain surprises his superiors by turning up alive; the dead man turns out to be his identical twin brother, whom he never knew existed. (The great French actress Stephanie Audran is hauled in to explain tearfully how she was forced to part with one of her sons due to lack of enough breast milk; I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time in France.)

Alain manages to track his dead brother back to New York. There, in a Little Odessa nightclub, he meets a waitress named Alex (Natasha Henstridge) who helps him find the men who killed his brother. These killers are either (or both) corrupt FBI agents or Russian mafiosos. There's a dearth of richly syllabled villains in current movies (Alan Rickman can only work so hard), so it's a delight to have the Russian mafia stirring up trouble on screen lately, with their elliptical threats and sinister accents.

Van Damme playing twins, as in Double Impact, is problematic; he has enough trouble playing one Jean-Claude, let alone two. And if Larry Ferguson's script is notable for anything, it's just notable for an absence--an absence of the cheap jokes that have become a major part of the insult to the intelligence of movies like these.

Lam's way with action sequences can be observed in such highlights of the Hong Kong action genre such as City on Fire and Full Contact. Maximum Risk's thrill sequences include a shootout in the middle of a crowded city square, a rolling chase through a subway yard and three breathtakingly rough martial-arts fights.

The film's direct appeal to the adrenal gland is accompanied by a strangely serious tone. There's a constant, sobering threat of danger. Lam is perhaps the most frantic of the Hong Kong directors, but he imparts some moral outrage to his moviemaking. Ultimately, what makes the Hong Kong action pictures so much more exhilarating than the Hollywood answers to them is that you feel that the filmmakers there haven't lost the sense that violence is horrible as well as fascinating.


Maximum Risk (R; 126 min.), directed by Ringo Lam, written by Larry Ferguson, photographed by Alexander Gruszynski and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

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From the September 19-25, 1996 issue of Metro

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing, Inc.


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