Oui, he played twin brothers already in Double Impact. But in Maximum Risk, Jean-Claude Van Damme is Alain, a buff French half who discovers he’s a twin only after his separated-at-birth-and-raised-by-Russians brother, Mikhail, is murdered. The discovery so rattles our stone-faced hero that he sheds one glycerin tear and vamooses for the Russian Mob-heavy neighborhood of Brooklyn called Little Odessa, where he assumes the identity of Mikhail, having vowed to learn more about his brother’s shadowy life. Why? Because Van Damme has vowed to crank out his robotic product until we cry oncle, that’s why.
Of course, really elaborate car chases and torrential gunfire being the universal vocabulary of action dramas, Maximum Risk is ready-made to be dubbed into many tongues. (It already sounds like it’s being spoken in Esperanto.) But what, I wonder, will international audiences make of Alain’s encounters with a psycho New York City taxi driver (Frank Van Keeken from TV’s Kids in the Hall), who babbles excitedly to his fare about Bret Easton Ellis; or Alain’s foray into a Russian steam bath, where big-bellied guys sit around in sheets drinking and killing one another; or Alain’s what-the-hell relationship with Mikhail’s girlfriend, a lanky club hostess played with all the usefulness of a herring by Species’ Natasha Henstridge? (Yes, boys, she bares her breasts.)
Veteran Hong Kong-born director Ringo Lam works in indestructible Hong Kong-born cinema style. The movie opens with a well-choreographed, high-octane chase through pretty, narrow streets in the south of France and climaxes with a showdown in an abattoir, complete with a lethal buzz saw. But somewhere between the fruit tumbling as cars roar through the marketplace, and the pig carcass splitting as Alain faces his final enemy, Maximum Risk’s motor sputters to a halt, leaving us to wonder, What is the universal expression for Enough, already? D+