Director: Peter Hyams
Cast: Tom Everett Scott, Orlando Jones, Linzey Cocker, Kristopher Van Varenberg and Jean Claude Van Damme
Plot: A ranger (Everett Scott) on an isolated island finds himself held at gunpoint by the brother (Jones) of a marine he left behind in his past life as a military commander. However, his would-be execution is interrupted by a gang of heroin dealers, led by a familiar Belgian muscleman.
Peter Hyams has made some pretty decent action movies in this time. His most popular is Timecop, followed by other action classics like ‘End of Days’ and ‘Sudden Death’. While he has never been the flashiest action director, his movies have always been dependable thrillers, which is why it is nice to see him back in action, even if it is in this straight-to-DVD B Movie.
The movie starts small with Tom Everett Scott’s ranger, Henry, a lone protector of a small island, which serves as a tourist attraction. It is isolated and the only other inhabitant is a grumpy old man, who likes to be left alone. Henry likes the isolation, recently recovering from a bout of depression from his military life. Suddenly, his idyllic life is broken when the brother of a marine he was forced to abandon, during a military operation gone bad, shows up. The brother, Clay, has dreamt of murdering the commander of the unit for quite some time and there seems like no easy way out. However, both of them are unaware that the island is being used as a meeting point for a drug deal. A plane crash is purposefully carried out, so a shipment of heroin is waiting for a group of thugs, led by Jean Claude Van Damme’s environmentally-friendly yet murderous villain, to collect. However, as this team of criminals bumps into Clay’s assassination attempt, Van Damme’s deep sea diver is shot dead. Knowing that the ranger, running loose on the island is also trained in diving, Van Damme sets out to persuade him to complete the dive for him, at whatever cost.
First, let’s start by applauding Enemies Closer on being a very well-acted movie. Tom Everett Scott is an inspired choice for a leading hero. He is instantly likeable, even if he does completely ban drinking from the island and turn down the least subtle come-on from a beautiful girl I’ve seen in quite some time. He is so well-mannered, that it is hard to have faith in him coming across as an action star. Thankfully, when the punches need to be thrown, Hyams’ direction convinces. A lot of the time it is obviously a stunt double doing the tougher movies, yet it never looks silly. Orlando Jones has a tougher job of coming across as likeable, because his motives are very narrow-minded. He stubbornly accuses Henry of being the reason his brother ended up dead (he was a soldier and it was in a war – why is that so hard to get over?!), and remains hostile until very late in the movie. The selling point here is that these two have to overcome the death of Clay’s brother to make it out of the island alive. While Jones is always held back by being second fiddle at action hero duties, he does win the audience over eventually. That being said, he is given the worst line in the whole movie. “A minute ago, you wanted to kill the ranger. What changed?” “My mind!” Was that meant to be a bad-ass line Jones says before finishing off a baddie, because it makes absolutely no sense?
Then there is Jean Claude Van Damme, who really makes this movie. He seems to enjoy being the veteran star here and simply chews scenery. Van Damme definitely works better as a villain rather than the good guy; he is just so much fun to be around. He has all of the necessary quirks to make him more than a stereotypical thug in an action thriller. He reels off environmentally friendly factoids, even going as far to kill passer-bys for littering. It is hard to resist the charm of Van Damme delivering his ultimatum to Henry at the end of the movie, which drinking from a mug of coffee. He struggles with the grammar of some of his lines, sure, but on the whole, without him, this movie wouldn’t be as good as it is. Occasionally his age makes him look out of place; certain shots suffer from Stallone-itis, where he is meant to be threatening, but the ageing features cannot pull it off anymore. However, the moment the fighting starts, Van Damme proves why he is still a force to be reckoned with in the action genre. He moves like lightning and it is fun watching him show off the moves he made a name for himself with. I did stop and think why this superstar is featuring in this cheap action, but it occurred to me that this has been the type of film he has always been in. However, these days the superhero and fantasy genre have relegated simple punch-em-ups to B Movies. When we think of this movie in the same vein as we think of Van Damme’s earlier work, then this becomes a much easier pill to swallow.
I liked the style of fighting too. It reminded me of the UFC grapples, a sport that I am getting into more and more these days. It helped make small set-pieces feel much more prominent. Who needs a large scale battlefield to show off, when the dirty fighting style focus more on the two people in the fight? There is also something very impressive about one of the action heroes grappling someone; it looks impossible to get out of. And then the other action star being grappled would manage to slip out of it and we respected that person even more. It is a constant game of one-up-manship and I liked that more than I would a simple brawling style of fighting. There are a few cool set-pieces to make the ending a little more explosive. The finale sees Jean Claude Van Damme do his thing, swinging through a tree and a punch-up on a boat is a satisfying ending to the whole thing. This movie does feel held back by a low budget, but I could have done a lot worse.
Final Verdict: Enemies Closer is pretty simple, but its honesty makes that forgivable. It delivers as a competent action and a fine turn by Van Damme.