Nutshell: Separated as infants, identical twins Chad and Alex (Jean-Claude Van Damme) were raised worlds apart. When the crooks that killed their father return to orchestrate a substantial criminal enterprise, Chad’s guardian, Frank (Geoffrey Lewis), decides to reunite the pair after 25 years of isolation. While Californian Chad and Hong Kong bootlegger Alex have their differences, the butt-kickin’ boys must team up to topple baddies and reclaim what’s rightfully theirs.
1991: While never greeted with a rapturous response befitting a world-class thespian, Jean-Claude Van Damme made a welcome impression performing in low-budget actioners that didn’t tax his English language skills, focused primarily on his feats of strength and flexibility. He was a built guy with a thick accent and a wide-open face that could register fear and fury (not to mention a stupendous command of plausible confusion), and his early work benefited from that simplicity.
I suppose it began with “Kickboxer,” a 1989 martial arts scrapper that brought Van Damme to my doorstep. It was a treat to see such a fresh face on the action scene, and his releases, while undeniably crude, were perfectly suited to the actor’s limited abilities. The recipe was simple: Grunts, splits, and kicks. Sprinkle in some sentimentality and a nondescript baddie, and there was a successful Van Damme production. 1989 to 1991 were the prime years of development, highlighting the bruiser building a name for himself with minor yet profitable studio work, culminating with “Double Impact,” which was the first Van Damme vehicle to be blessed with serious studio faith. Columbia Pictures gave Van Damme a gimmick and something of a budget, planting the movie with a late-summer release date to see if the growing fanbase would turn out en masse for the Muscles from Brussels.
I suppose I was the ideal demographic for “Double Impact,” happily devouring its loopy attitude and marketing promise of “Twice the Van Damage.” It was a silly picture, but in a perfectly escapist way. Playing up the bulky star’s limited charisma and profound bendy parts, the movie nudged the head-bumped one into more of a blockbuster arena, though the film retained its dingy J.V. look, filling out the cast with an assortment of C-list actors, even marking the acting debut of female weight lifter Cory Everson, gifted the, but of course, lesbonic enforcer role. It was that type of weirdness that impressed me as a kid, although the Brichives suggest there was some fatigue with the Van Damme formula.
2011: Van Damme takes co-producing, co-story, co-writing, and starring credits in “Double Impact.” No wonder the film is determined to showcase his pouty sex appeal and face-smashing action prowess. If somebody else had control of the picture, I doubt we would witness shots like this.
Let’s see Steven Seagal try that one. In fact, let’s see Steven Seagal bend over and tie his shoes these days.
One has to approach “Double Impact” with a sense of humor. Clearly Van Damme was interested in designing a slightly doofy creation, permitting the strongman a chance to stretch as an actor, attempting to play two roles of conflicting personalities. It helps to dress Chad up as a DayGlo-drenched Southern California dandy, while the heavily moussed Alex enjoys chomping on cigars and hulking out over the littlest details. Nevertheless, the effort is appreciated, keeping the feature modestly entertaining, although the picture is practically “Godfather: Part II” in terms of Van Damme’s lackluster filmography.
Director Sheldon Lettich (who would go on to work with Van Damme on numerous occasions) runs a relatively tight ship, generously serving up the action beats, spreading the chaos all over sweltering Hong Kong locations. There’s also a pronounced sense of humor that helps to loosen the endeavor up, nudged along by Van Damme’s eagerness to cartoonishly divide Chad and Alex’s personalities, while rubbery Geoffrey Lewis finds himself refereeing the picture in the straight man role. Mercifully, “Double Impact” doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a slightly aware action festival, establishing the basics without a fuss.
Oh, there are plenty of problems to distract from the fist-first merriment. At 105 minutes, the picture feels endless, needlessly caught up in its ridiculous plot, as though anyone is actually keeping track of the details. There’s also an uncomfortable mid-movie scene that finds Alex fighting visions of Chad poking his girlfriend (Alonna Shaw), trashing his home in a drunken stupor, visualizing a softcore porn moment that gives the target demographic exactly what they paid for: boobs. Well, twice the Van Damage too, but primarily boobs. There are a few indulgent, legitimately awful scenes that keep the feature from becoming delightful junk food, most hastily arranged to beef up Van Damme’s screentime.
“Double Impact” is easily digestible and provides perhaps the most accurate snapshot of Van Damme’s brief screen dominance. Admittedly, he’s fun to watch, especially when tragically lost in delusions of thespian might. Unlike his borderline immobile contemporaries, Van Damme carried a weird screen energy that’s exploited splendidly here. He was never great with drama, lousy with the English language, but put the man in tight pants and surround him with Asian stuntmen, and there’s pure joy to be had.