Maximum Risk Review
For reasons that I don't fully understand, the muscles from Brussels has made a number of films where he has played dual roles. He has played a cyborg version of himself, twins brought together for the first time to avenge their murdered parents, and twins who never re-unite but share a common revenge. For many an actor, the challenge of making two people who look the same seem different is quite a challenge but for Van Damme it's like climbing Everest in a blizzard, blind and with only a toothpick as a tool. This is because Van Damme is always Van Damme, the only difference is the story around him and the actors who play off him. For the supporting cast, it's a bit like wall tennis to work with the man as whatever they emote or project it always bounces back with no extra purchase or insight.
This is of course because JCVD is no actor. He is a once supremely effective athlete who has a sympathetic face and an innocent demeanour. This is his principal draw when he is cast in the center of intrigue as the audience's representative fighting back against the terrible odds of the world he finds himself in. In most of his films he carries this off well, but if you ever see the scenes with the two Van Dammes in Double Impact you will find yourself stuck in a loop of non acting with emotionless dull reading of dialogue batted back and forth and any pretence that this is two people destroyed by the deathly artificiality.
Maximum Risk is Van Damme as twins who never meet and consequently no vacuum is created on screen by the doubling of absent acting. It is directed by the man who, along with John Woo, created some of the best of modern crime action films from Hong Kong and it carries some of the director's best qualities along with some of the usual shortcomings of JVCD's movies. Ringo Lam allows some space for character in the supporting cast and delivers the chases and fights well with the support of a myriad of stuntmen, and the second rate story and charisma black hole are very nearly succesfully disguised.
A bevvy of supporting actors from American TV attempt to people what is a very unlikely story of a French cop and his twin Russian gangster brother(well it almost explains his Belgian accent!). Starting in France with JVCD biting the dust in one of his guises, only to be resurrected in the shape of his cop brother, moving on to the world of the Russian mafia in New York and returning to France chased by crooks and bent agents, the story has a decent structure and arc thanks to the efforts of the cast and director. The star runs, jumps and kicks, but the acting is left up to the likes of Stephane Audran, how the mighty have fallen, and the charisma comes via Natasha Henstridge who overcomes the height differential to be a credible love interest.
Lam gives the movie a bit of much needed depth by playing on symbols of mirrors and emphasising the written character of the star, who does his best to suggest duality but largely is simply playing one character who is a bit egg-bound and another who has a better relationship with his bowel. No time is given to think about the creepiness of Henstridge sleeping with both brothers, and Jean Hughes-Anglade is lost and virtually emotion free as he struggles with his English dialogue. There are no proper explanations for the turn of events and simple momentum, usually running away from something, drives what qualifies as a plot.
So it sounds deeply shallow, flawed, unoriginal and a bit of a B-movie right? Well it isn't, because the momentum is irresistible and occasionally something marvellous like the wired Taxi Driver happens. For a film with such a generic script to produce such sincere pathos from a character who acts as a getaway device and comic relief is amazing, I believe the actor is Henry Gomez and his turn here is brilliant as he hooks up with JVCD as the subject for his great unwritten novel. The bent FBI agents are also surprising and the comic relief throughout is handled with a sureness of touch.
The film ends in syrupy goodness and there is a sex scene that may qualify for the least likely since Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson decided that the fast lane of a motorway was the only place for coitus in The Chase. It is no classic, it doesn't make much sense and you'll have seen most of the plot several times before but it is entertaining and able to compensate for its weaknesses by including a few unusual elements and some good character acting. Mostly though the action delivers and the pace is unstoppable, and lets face it that's what you want from the only famous Belgian you can remember when you're down the pub.
Maximum Risk is good fun.
Sony present Maximum Risk with a good looking transfer. Flesh tones look very lifelike with plenty of detail and there is little to be complained about in terms of DNR. The image displays a healthy amount of grain and black levels seem immaculate throughout, but some of the shots of skies in the European scenes seem rather too uniformly white. Colours look faithful to what I imagine is a deliberate attempt to show the European locales as rather idealised whilst the US scenes are darker and slightly more vibrant. In terms of edges, this is nigh perfect with very rare ringing in the darker scenes.
Numerous language options are provided, mostly in TrueHD 5.1 formats, the English track downmixed on my set up to a strong stereo track which has real drive and impact. Effects are so clear at times that you fear for the carnage as bodies are bruised and bones are broken, voices are always mixed to be easily heard and the thumping score is allowed to serve its purpose of pumping the adrenaline. This was filmed in surround, so if your set up allows you to play TrueHD properly I hope that the downmix is evidence of the quality of the full surround track.
The disc comes with a BD-Live option which didn't work on my player, and trailers for other Sony releases. The transfer takes up 27GB of the disc's total used capacity of 29GB.
Well I was impressed with the transfer here. My only previous experience of the film is on late night digital channels with prints that look like video quality and this is a colossal improvement. This is a surprisingly fun film which hidden in the midst of some of the other Action releases on BD may prove a better purchase.