Jean-Claude Van Damme began his big-screen acting career in 1984 playing various hoods and heavies, but it didn't take him long to establish a name and get his first lead in "Bloodsport" in 1988. From there he rose and fell rather quickly, reaching his peak with "Double Impact," "Universal Soldier," "Nowhere to Run," and "Timecop" in the early-to-mid Nineties; then his appeal and his audience began to dwindle, and he currently makes films direct to video.
"Maximum Risk" from 1996 marks the beginning of his decline, although, to be fair, it's a pretty decent DAM (Dumb Action Movie) and an above-average Van Damme DAM. Hong Kong action director Ringo Lam ("Point of No Return," "Brother vs. Brother," "Replicant," "In Hell") guided the project, and if he hadn't been so predictably rambunctious, it might even have been a classic of its kind. "Maximum Risk" has its moments of fun and excitement, and even though it's remarkably uneven and hits rock bottom on occasion, it should be of interest to die-hard action fans.
The best thing the movie has going for it is writer Larry Ferguson, who helped pen movies like "Highlander," "Beverly Hills Cop 2," "The Presidio," "The Hunt for Red October," and "Alien 3." Even if he runs out of ideas by the last third of the story, it's really Van Damme and Lam who let down the proceedings, Van Damme with his wooden acting and Lam with his often hysterical direction.
Ferguson actually creates something resembling a plot for "Maximum Risk," something a lot of action movies leave out in favor on nonstop kicking and punching. This time, Van Damme takes a page from his "Double Impact" book, again playing twins. In "Maximum Risk" the first twin, Mikhail Suverov, dies early on, apparently murdered, and the second twin, Alain Moreau, attempts to track down his killer. Why the different names? Why, of course, they were separated at birth and raised by different parents.
Alain is a French police detective, and when he learns of Mikhail's death and that Mikhail was suddenly trying to reach him at the time of his death, naturally he's got to do what any brother would do and investigate the case. The story begins in the South of France with a chase reminiscent of the ones we would later see in the "Bourne" films, but not as exciting. Then the story moves to New York City and then back to France. You'd think with all the location shooting in exotic locales, the film would have more atmosphere, but it doesn't. It might as well have been filmed entirely in Toronto for all the mood its settings generate (in fact, much of it was filmed in Toronto, as well as Nice, France, and New York). There was potential here.
Anyway, along the way Alain's police partner, Sebastian (Jean-Hugues Anglade), comes and goes, and it's a shame he doesn't stay longer as Anglade is the best actor in the film and creates a charming character. Also along the way, Alain meets up with his brother's old girlfriend, Alex Minetti (Natashia Henstridge), and it's a shame she stays throughout the picture as she is even less capable an actor than Van Damme. Fortunately, she's a knockout, so she does provide some scenic attraction, making up for the lack of atmosphere I mentioned above. Ms. Henstrdge had made "Species" the year before, where her unique talents were better suited.
The villains all look properly villainous--thuggish, bearded, shaven-headed, or blond as the case may be (hey, what do you have against blond-headed heavies?). Most of baddies are members of the Russian Mafia, with whom Alain finds his brother was associated, and some of the other baddies are corrupt FBI agents. They all confuse Alain with his brother when he shows up, so there's some interesting interplay there.
Van Damme hasn't much in the way of personality or charisma, but he is handsome and has the right moves. Lam choreographs the fight scenes well enough, and a few of them produce a thrill or two even if they don't always make a lot of sense or advance the story line. The dialogue is mostly idiotic, though, and the comedy relief often reminds one of typical Asian martial-arts films, which I suppose is logical given director Lam's background.
Essentially, the movie is a private-eye caper, a style I love, so I did appreciate the investigative angle as Alain and Alex move through the underworld of two continents picking up clues and meeting an assortment of shady characters. The tone is not quite dark enough to call the movie a film noir, although it skirts the edges of the genre. Instead, the chasing and fighting continues so relentlessly, it rather spoils any tension or suspense the director might have developed. Again, I suppose that's Lam's action-movie background showing.
If anything, the plot actually gets overly complex as it goes along, piling one ridiculous circumstance on another, until by the time the final half hour rolls around, it appears that neither the screenwriter nor the main character could quite figure how he was going to get out of it. However, the best fight scene does come near the end of the picture, with Alain battling it out in an elevator with a big, tough, blond Russian guy. This scene reminded me of the train-car scrap between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in "From Russia With Love." That's probably the biggest compliment I can give the movie.
"Maximum Risk" concludes with another absurd chase and then an even more preposterous showdown involving a chainsaw. Lam never knows when to quit.
The video is neither great nor lousy, but it's pretty decent most of the time. Sony use a dual-layer BD50 for maximum video quality, an MPEG-4/AVC codec for the transfer, and 1080p resolution, all of which render the movie's 2.40:1 widescreen ratio as well as possible. I suspect that any shortcomings in the image derive from the original print, which is somewhat inconsistent. Colors are its strong suit, being realistically vivid without being too bright. Definition, though, varies, sometimes faintly soft and blurred, other times clear and sharp. A fine film grain lends a degree of texture to the picture, which otherwise displays no halos or artifacts.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio rather steals the show. It displays an abundance of robust surround activity, with bullets, cars, and fists flying from all five-point-one speakers. There are wide-ranging sonics, an impressively taut deep bass, and a strong dynamic impact, with gunshots ringing with authority. While for me the sound was a little too forward, I suppose that is in the tradition of most modern action thrillers.
Sony must have figured Van Damme fans would only be interested in the movie because basically the movie is all you get. Either that, or the studio didn't have anything they found worthwhile in the way of extras to include. There is a BD-Live feature that connects the disc to the Internet if you have a BD-Live-enabled player (Profile 2.0), and maybe the studio has a host of delights awaiting a person there; I don't know. What we do get besides BD-Live are sixteen scene selections but no chapter insert; bookmarks; pop-up menus; a widescreen theatrical trailer; previews of several other Sony products at start-up and in the main menu; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, Arabic, and Dutch subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
I think I would have liked "Maximum Risk" more with someone other than the stone-faced Jean-Claude Van Damme in the lead. The fact is, the movie has some good moments of intrigue and adventure, and with a more charismatic hero it might have worked better. As it is, with Van Damme's leaden acting and Ringo Lam's harebrained direction, it ends up a pretty ordinary (DAM) action flick. Oh, well....