Double Team (1997)

Bad as I Wanna Be

If nothing else, one can admire the fact that Double Team represents an era of film when studios weren’t afraid to take big risks.  Today, the idea of spending 30 million dollars on an R-rated movie starring a past-his-prime action star and a famous athlete would never get past the pitching stage, let alone greenlit.  And though Double Team’s gamble didn’t pay off, neither in quality nor box-office receipts; I, for one, am happy that this turkey exists.

In its opening scenes, Double Team is standard mid-career Jean-Claude Van Damme.  He plays Jack Quinn, an elite counter-terrorist agent who retired three years ago.  Approached by a government middleman, he’s coaxed out of his retirement by the promise of finally nabbing his white whale: international terrorist Stavros (a barely-there Mickey Rourke).  And so the stage is set for another textbook series of shootouts and high-flying kicks as the two rivals engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

But then Dennis Rodman shows up, shooting the movie into another dimension.  Playing Yaz, a flamboyant and overtly sexual arms dealer, his presence immediately removes any possibility of Double Team being an average action movie.  Rodman is an objectively terrible actor, with line readings that are either dead or completely off-key, but he does bring his famed super-freak charisma to the role.  It’s probably the right move on the screenwriters’ part to never play Yaz anything other than a Rodman insert, giving him a host of groan-worthy basketball one-liners.  And while he and Van Damme have no chemistry to speak of, there is a surreal pleasure in watching them act out a tin-eared, Wiseau-ian distortion of the classic buddy-action dynamic.

Rather inexplicably, Rodman disappears for a good half-hour after his introduction, while the movie makes an odd detour that’s barely connected to its ostensible plot.  After being left for dead, Quinn is brought to the Colony, a network of officially dead spies imprisoned on a lavish island who use their skills to remotely fight terrorism.  It’s Double Team’s only original idea, but it’s explored only on the surface, existing mainly to dispense exposition between action sequences.  That said, it’s also the source of most of the movie’s most enjoyably silly touches, like the system of deadly underwater lasers guarding the island.  The mini-arc of Quinn’s escape, though clearly a device to pad the movie’s runtime, is ironically more entertaining than anything the actual story has to offer.  Of course, Quinn and Yaz eventually reunite for a showdown with Stavros; exactly how this happens I really can’t say.

Double Team is a bad movie.  It’s sloppily structured, technically awkward (a good third of Rodman’s dialogue is obviously dubbed), and its central gimmick is a nonstarter.  The fact that the killing of a child twenty minutes in inspires smirks rather than gasps is a good gauge of the movie’s emotional intelligence.  Some of the action – chiefly that which lets Van Damme do his thing – is fairly slick, though it often falls prey to over-editing.  But it’s not nearly enough to save a movie like this, whose only hope of salvation is the elusive classification of so-bad-it’s-good.  Double Team has just enough laughable moments – from its drippy scenes with Quinn’s wife and child to every godawful joke that Rodman chews his way through – to avoid becoming a truly painful watch.  It’s no crap classic; but it’s impossible not to derive some enjoyment from a movie whose climactic standoff involves a helpless baby, land mines, and a ferocious tiger.


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