Director: Tsui Hark
Screenplay: Don Jakoby and Paul Mones
Based On A Story By: Don Jakoby
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Paul Freeman, Mickey Rourke
Duration: 93 min
BBFC Certification: 18
Only a couple of decades ago, we were lucky enough to have reached the heights of action cinema that we had several big stars making a constant output of entertaining thrill rides. Arnie, Stallone, Willis and of course in this particular case Van Damme (and yes Seagal – who’s still going but that has moved to the point of name only and poorly choreographed fights against Vinnie Jones) and Double Team just so happens to be one of my absolute favourites. Sadly the film seems to still be relatively unknown against the big titles of the mid to late 90s which is a complete shame as this is honestly one of the best blockbusters I’ll continue to champion. Now in the case of whether or not this is actually a good film, valid arguments can be made for both sides of that topic depending on your taste for action cinema, but the undisputed truth is that there is so much in this film for lovers of the genre that I can guarantee that if you haven’t seen this and just want pure action and incredible entertainment, this will completely satisfy your cravings. From cat and mouse chases through fairgrounds and hospitals to hidden secure islands and finally the colosseum, trying to explain the film to someone who’s never seen it before is a daunting task. It’s not that complicated of a narrative but the wealth of entertainment within is just incredibly hard to pin down and pick one specific moment as its best. How this film only has a 4.8 on IMDb is a crying shame, especially as it marks one of only a few Hollywood films that the Chinese director Tsui Hark made before primarily focusing on making films back in Hong Kong.
Double Team follows the story of Jack Quinn (Van Damme) who is initially tasked with taking down the terrorist ‘Stavros’ (Mickey Rourke) but when that goes sideways, a mission of revenge begins as Quinn’s wife has now been kidnapped by Stavros but in true 90s fashion, Quinn can’t take on this mission entirely alone and so he teams up with an arms dealer named Yaz (Dennis Rodman) to take down his target and get his wife back. With a run time of only 93 minutes there is so much packed into this film that it’s impossible to be bored as it moves at a breakneck pace and delivers high intensity into the levels of action.
The 90s was a time for action films to show heart as well as bullets, and the villains were less copy paste caricatures from the cutouts that had been remodelled so many times before in the late 80s, instead now replaced with a nemesis that connected to the audience in a manner that resembled an understanding of their motivations but making sure not to remove the viewers desire for their inevitable demise and downfall. In the case of this particular film, Mickey Rourke portrays a villain with a reasonable want for revenge, however, that will go nowhere towards redeeming him for the previous deeds of his almost supervillain persona. With Van Damme as well we’re presented with a character who has to give up everything he knows and holds dear in order to protect the lives of his family and the potential victims of the elaborate plot devices the villain is scheming, and whilst this is nothing new, to see the big star heroes of this era of action cinema have to struggle with the events that are unfolding around them it all comes across as so much more involving when you’re actually rooting for the hero (more than you would Sly in Demolition Man which is almost far too macho for its own good as you don’t see him struggle with the transition even though it is apparent through about three lines of dialogue).
It’s the constant struggle of discussing the action genre as a film doesn’t have to be good to be considered a successful film within the wider pantheon. There will always exist a place for action films of the 80s and 90s as perfect entertainment regardless of whether or not they contain any ounce of credibility. In a sense, this continued into the mid-2000s but somewhere down that line the extremely poor editing styles took over and Liam Neeson had to climb a fence in 27 cuts. What stands out here though is the way that these films were made. The stunt team hurt themselves, they used squibs, tonnes of fake glass and special effects was a fancy term for more explosions and set destruction as opposed to Atari levels of inspiration for what futuristic technology would look like, and whilst some of that takes place in the film, it comes across as charming and works perfectly well to provide information.
And then this is the film that introduced Dennis Rodman to the silver screen (which some could in turn blame for making way for the apparent bomb that was Simon Sez two years later but in all honesty as a kid I still enjoyed that film) but the first and foremost element is that you can clearly see how much fun he’s having in the role, almost to the point where he upstages both Van Damme and Rourke. Throw in a large dose of Coca Cola product placement and all-in-all by the time the credits roll you’ll have the biggest grin on your face.
Released by 88 Films as part of their new Van Damme collection, there is no bad place to start and here they’ve been lovingly upgraded from their previous DVD counterparts that were satisfactory (and somehow comforting giving them the style of late-night television) but now we get to enjoy them the way they were meant to be seen and witness those Brussels muscles in full high definition.
Extras wise there isn’t much on offer here which is a shame and yet at the same time it takes away nothing from the enjoyment of this release. The only special feature on the list is an audio commentary from Audi Sorlie & Chris Lang where they discuss everything from Van Damme’s personal life at the time to basketball and information on the way the film was made. The limited release does come with a booklet from James Oliver that elaborates on the time the film was made and how its reputation has been received over the years.
The picture quality is stunning and the audio captures every bullet ricochet, explosion and grunt from the fight scenes where Van Damme flips his foot into the face of an enemy. This is the ultimate way to enjoy the film and once again I can’t recommend it enough. It also comes with a reversible sleeve that has either Van Damme or Rodman as the focused character depending on your preference. Whilst I would have loved to have seen more in the way of extras, this really isn’t the kind of film that would have that available and that’s certainly not a bad thing as the commentary provides enough background that you’ll have learnt so much more by the end than when you initially pushed play.
For collectors with a passion for 88 Films releases or simply a love of bombastic 90s action films, this is an easy to recommend purchase at full price or a future sale as it’s no doubt a film you can return to multiple times for a number of sequences that you’ll be hard-pressed to narrow down a favourite. Honestly, there are times when I’ve forgotten that certain sections of the narrative take place in this film which leaves me even more overjoyed that they all take place in one piece of 90s cinema. Leave your brain as far away as you can, sit back and roll with it.