|Available at Amazon.com|
There was a time when Jean-Claude Van Damme was poised to become the next great Hollywood Action Icon. Coming out of the period when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were the two biggest stars in the world, Van Damme had the right look, and the bonus of Martial Arts prowess to be able propel him to stardom, but then as he was about to truly ascend to greatness, the bottom fell out. A string of duds killed his budding acting career, and now currently JCVD is stuck with Steven Seagal in the hell of “Straight to DVD” releases. Taking a look at Universal’s new Van Damme Action Pack Quadruple Feature, you can actually see the descent of this once popular Action star from icon to has been in a time capsule of just four short movies.
Disc One: Hard Target and Time Cop
Of all the films in this pack, Hard Target is the only one that’s the real deal. As John Woo’s first American feature film, Hard Target introduced many fans stateside to the man who had directed some of the greatest Action movies of all time that no one had ever seen, such as his epics, Hard Boiled and The Killer. A loose remake of The Most Dangerous Game, Hard Target has Lance Henriksen as Emil Fouchon, a man who sets up hunts in which rich men get together to track down and kill homeless veterans. Problems arise though, when Fouchon messes with the wrong hobo. Jean-Claude Van Damme IS Chance Boudreaux, a former trained killing machine of the armed services who has fallen on hard times and currently lives on the streets, getting by with odd jobs and part time sailing work, and when Fouchon messes with his loved ones, all hell breaks loose in a way that only John Woo can present it.
You can tell that Hard Target is the movie Woo made just after Hard Boiled, because if you look you can see a lot of Woo’s trademarks from his Hong Kong masterpiece here, from masked motorcycle assassins to slow motion doves. The flick just feels akin to Woo’s Hong Kong films, which is exactly what you would want it to do. The director throws in as many two-fisted gun fights and fire-laden fight scenes has he can throw at you, exhilarating his audience as much as possible on what was probably a low-scale budget for this type of flick.
A good Action movie has to have good villains as well, and Hard Targethas plenty to go around. Henriksen is just straight up awesome as Fouchon, with all the smoking intensity you would expect from a John Woo villain. He’s also complemented by Arnold Vosloo’s Pik, a former big game hunter who does Foucho’s dirty work. The duo are absolutely malicious together and do great work as the movie’s fundamental picture of evil.
Standing tall in perhaps his best performance though, is Jean-Claude Van Damme. No director was able to accentuate what charisma Van Damme was able to bring to the screen better than John Woo, and Van Damme seems to relish the moment, taking every opportunity to flex his muscles and get in some jump kicks while huge explosions go off behind him. The last forty minutes of this movie is basically just one long Action sequence with Boudreaux picking off the bad guys one at a time, leading up to the final confrontation with Fouchon.
Hard Target is double-fisted-pistol-packing action with a jaw dropping climax. The movie should really get more love than it does, because it really represents what is arguably Van Damme’s best film overall and is probably in the top 3 as far as Woo’s American efforts go. In this pack though, this movie undoubtedly stands head and shoulders over the rest.
As far as the other movie on this disc. Timecop is another tier down, but it’s still kind of watchable. Van Damme IS Max Walker, a police officer whose wife gets killed in a mysterious shootout, and ten years later he gets the chance to save her. Walker is actually an officer of a special unit that patrols temporal crimes after the invention of time travel technology comes into being. Thing is, he ends up going against that code in order to save his wife, all the while trying to stop a plot by a rogue Senator whose attempting to manipulate time so he’ll become President.
Again, this is a tier down from Hard Target, but it’s not hard to appreciate that this is an R-Rated Action flick that comes with the usual brain-dead trappings of the genre of the era. Sure, you could drive a truck through the plot-holes in this picture, but the constant barrage of bad guys and gun fights makes for a decently fun time, and Ron Silver does his usual over the rich villain. Overall, this one could be a lot worse, as evidenced by the second disc of movies.
Disc Two: Street Fighter and The Quest
Jean-Claude Van Damme IS Colonel William F. Guile, an American soldier out to defeat the evil M. Bison (Raul Julia), a megalomaniac despot out to create an army of super soldiers in order to take over the world. No matter how bad ass Guile is though, there’s no way he can overcome the incredible amount of ham-fisted action and lazy scripting to be found within this picture. With fighting kept to a bare minimum and most characters resembling their Video Game counterparts in name only, if it weren’t for Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter would be the worst Video Game movie ever made.
A movie without enough fights to satisfy fans of the game or really bad enough to inspire a Cult following, Street Fighter ends up pleasing no one. It is truly sad this is the last film that Raul Julia would star in before his untimely death. Everything from this movie’s uninspired comedy bits to its lackluster and languid representations of the game’s signature characters spell all around doom for this project. If any movie represented for Van Damme what Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! was for Stallone or what Batman and Robin was for Schwarzenegger, it is this picture.
Unfortunately, Van Damme has no one to blame but himself for the sheer amount of mediocrity contained within the last movie on this set. Ever wanted to see a PG-13 version of Bloodsport, only set in the 1920’s? If your answer was yes, then The Quest is just what the doctor ordered. Jean-Claude Van Damme IS Chris Dubois, a man on the run from the law who ends up as a stowaway on a ship that gets attacked by pirates. Seeing that Chris is an amazing fighter, the captain of the pirate ship (the awesome Roger Moore), leaves Chris on an island of Muay Thai, hoping that his fighting prowess will bloom to the point where he can enter a secret tournament of the world’s greatest fighters. The last half of this movie is, of course, Chris fighting in the tournament in order to win the grand prize of a huge golden dragon, so that he can go home.
As far as any of the crimes committed against cinema by these movies, The Quest may break the worst of them; it’s completely boring. Where Hard Target features spectacular action and Street Fighter is spectacularly awful, the only thing spectacular about this movie is how mediocre it is. With uninspired fights, cinematography and direction (supplied by Van Damme himself), The Quest represents what is perhaps the biggest failure of Van Damme’s career.
Overall, this set could only be recommended for Van Damme enthusiasts. While Hard Target is as solid as can be and Timecop is a guilty pleasure, Street Fighter and The Quest are both throwaway. Much like the star’s career, these movies’ degenerate pretty quickly, and show exactly why JCVD isn’t the household name that he used to be.
The A/V quality on this set is about as good as the movie’s themselves. None of the prints are spectacular and Street Fighter isn’t even in anamorphic widescreen. The Audio quality is about the same level.
There are no extras on these discs. Not even scene selections.
Again, this is for Van Damme completists only. The Quest and Street Fighter aren’t even really laughably bad; they’re just bad. Time Cop can be fun, and Hard Target is eye opening in just how awesome it really is, but that’s only two out of four as far as this set goes.
Universal presents Van Damme Action Pack Quadruple Feature . Directed by John Woo, Peter Hyams, Steven E. de Souza, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Running time: 392 minutes. Rated R and PG-13. Released on DVD: May 27, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.