Director: Ringo Lam
Script: Larry Ferguson
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge, Jean Hughes Anglade, Zach Grenier, Stephane Audran, Frank Senger, Paul Ben-Victor, Frank van Keeken
Running time: 101 minutes
Maximum Risk begins in Nice, France, where Alain Moreau (Van Damme) is a serving police inspector. He’s brought in to investigate the sudden death of someone who looks the spitting image of him; a death we saw at the very beginning of the film during an exciting chase sequence that culminated in what we later learn is Alain’s twin brother, Mikhail, having an unfortunate and rather spectacular road traffic accident.
Alain finds out from his mother that he and his brother were split up when they were still babies, with his brother going to a Russian foster home. Mikhail later became involved in the Russian mafia and made dangerous enemies on both sides of the blue line, culminating in his untimely death. The rest of the film sees Alain pretending to be his brother to find out about his lost sibling and to try and find out more about himself and his wider family. But, don’t worry, this is no family drama full of tears and reminiscences over carrot juice and croissants, this is a fast-paced action film, directed by one of the best action directors in the business.
Alain’s search for the truth takes him initially to Paris, then across to New York and then back to Nice for a satisfying showdown at a bank and its environs. On the way we get to see some cracking action set pieces including a vicious fight in a burning office, an equally nasty dust-up in a Russian steam bath (pre-dating Eastern Promises’ similar scene by a decade), a tense chase across some roof-tops and another nasty fight to the death in a lift. Alain also gets to meet up and collaborate with Mikhail’s sexy girlfriend, Alex (Natasha Henstridge), replete with the obligatory quickie sex scene (this time in a bathroom), and finds and loses, just as quickly, a comedy sidekick in the form of cabbie, Davis (Frank van Keeken), who’s a frustrated thriller writer and as mad as a bag of shaken-up hornets.
Maximum Risk is well shot, with some great locations and nicely-staged action and fight sequences. Lam also revisits some of his old Hong Kong style visual tricks such as reprising the bullet-point-of-view shot that he used first used in the also excellent Full Contact (1992) .The film’s pacing is good and it’s all nicely held together by a decent score by Robert Folk.
Van Damme had played twins before, of course, in Double Impact (Sheldon Lettich, 1991), which was also a lot of fun, but in a more surface way than Maximum Risk. Lam tries to get a bit deeper with the concept, even including a rather clichéd moment where Alain, after visiting some serious violence upon some heavies, pauses to look at his own reflection in a broken mirror, and is clearly distressed by what he sees – the mirror reflecting his own split personality as vividly as any session with a shrink.
Following Maximum Risk Ringo Lam and Jean-Claude Van Damme did work together again on the rather mediocre Replicant (2001) and gritty prison drama In Hell (2003); both of which are still worth checking out. It’s a shame that Ringo Lam died in 2018 before they got the chance to work together again.
Some Jean-Claude Van-Damme affectionardos might be a bit disappointed by the lack of him doing the splits or a Van Damme butt shot, but Maximum Risk is still a solid mid-budget action film, the likes of which they sadly seldom make these days. It’s certainly one of JCVD’s best films.
88 Films is distributing Maximum Risk on Blu-ray. There are a variety of extras that come with this release, which include:
Audio Commentary by Audi Sorlie – An engaging commentary track given by a ‘Van Damme super fan’. We learn quite a lot from Audi, including the fact that the film’s original title was The Exchange, which then changed to Blood Stone for a while, before they finally settled on Maximum Risk. Apparently this was the first in a three picture deal for Van Damme with Columbia, and the film’s budget was around $25M.
Original trailer (1.40 mins) – A nicely cut trailer that utilises The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ track to good effect.
Booklet notes written by James Oliver – A nice affectionate essay, entitled ‘Wham-Bam thank you Van Damme’, about the film, refreshingly written by a non-snobby journalist.