ENEMIES CLOSER [US/UK 2013]
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD: 21st July, from ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 85 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, OffiCial HCF Critic
A place crashes just off an island on the US/Canadian border. Psychotic Xander and his bunch of mercenaries show up at border control, dressed as Mounties, and, after killing everyone there, head for the plane which has something inside it that they want. Except for one reclusive old man, the island is inhabited solely by Henry Taylor, a ranger who is still traumatised by a past event when he served in Afghanistan where he was responsible for another soldier’s death. Lo and Behold, who should turn up but Clay, the dead man’s brother, and out for revenge. After a fight, Clay drags Henry into the woods to kill him, but then Xander shows up….
Peter Hyams directed two of the biggest films from Jean-Claude Van Damme when he was at the peak of his popularity, Timecop and Sudden Death, so I was rather looking forward to seeing his reunion with the Muscles From Brussels. Sadly the result isn’t really that good, a fairly run-of-the-mill actioner that isn’t boring but never really gets the adrenalin going like it should. There’s something rather likeable about such a simple, stripped down affair, but it just doesn’t seem to try very hard. It’s possible that Hyams, whose career has been going downhill for a very long time and almost stopped, felt constrained by the low budget of the film he has given, though of course a low budget can be a good thing and fuel creativity. Enemies Closer is never quite dull, keeps moving, and has one ingredient which is very noteworthy indeed, but never becomes as exciting as you think it’s going to, and definately ranks as one of Van Damme’s weaker recent films.
Said noteworthy ingredient is Van Damme himself. While he does do some, though not very much, fighting, what is so great about him here is his scenery chewing performance, one part Heath Ledger’s Joker, one part Gary Oldman’s Stansfield from Leon, and one part Van Damme’s own offbeat style, which even here contains a bit of the vulnerability that has always been one of his most likeable assets. Though he’ll never be a great actor, he has improved very much since his early days and he’s an absolute joy to watch in this film. It helps that he has such a fun character to play, a murderous psychopath who is also a vegan and wants to save the planet. The script by Eric and James Bromberg, which isn’t too good elsewhere, gives him some good lines too, even if some of them are pinched from other movies [if you think nobody can say : “A man’s got to know his limitations” as good as Clint Eastwood than think again!]. Actually, come to think of it, quite a lot of this film is pinched from other movies including a small scale rehash of the ending of Die Hard 2. It was Hyams who suggested the casting of Van Damme and it really pays off. As I said before he doesn’t demonstrate his skills an awful lot, though his opening scene gives us a more vicious Van Damme then we have probably ever seen before as he cuts loose in brutal fashion on the guys at border control.
The set-up is decent. The ‘hero’ has lived a life of solitude for three years because he caused someone’s death, and is then confronted by the person’s vengeful brother, after which the two have to team up to defeat the ‘real’ villains. It becomes mostly lots of chasing and shooting around the island, and it’s reasonably tense, if not tense enough. However, the decision to have all this take place at night backfires. While Hyams employs his customary effective mix of wide shots and quick cuts [but not annoyingly quick] for the fight scenes, his usual decision to use as little artificial light as possible doesn’t work here because you can’t always see what’s going on. There’s some good stuff happening in the close-quarter martial arts combat which mostly, though not entirely, goes for realism, and it was a great idea to stage a fight on a tree, but it’s just hard to make all of it out, and you can still notice some of the stunt doubling. The most enjoyable fight is actually an early one in a cabin, where Henry and Clay use everything at their disposal from shelves to an iron in an entertainingly over-the-top brawl.
Unfortunately neither of the other characters are as well written as Van Damme’s and the less about the main female character, played by the not-very-talented if rather pretty Linzey Cocker, the better! At the beginning she virtually ‘comes on’ to Henry within minutes of him rescuing her from being trapped by some logs in a hole, then disappears only to show up as the damsel in distress near the end and then take part in a final twist which fails to come off because you’ll probably see it coming a mile off. Orlando Jones is pretty weak in his role too and neither him nor Tom Everett Scott convince as ex-Navy SEALS considering all the combat skills we know SEALS have. One interesting thing about Enemies Closer is its mocking of some left wing values such as veganism and environmental friendliness. I don’t think this means the film is actually right-wing, and actually it’s a nice change considering so many films these days mock right-wing values. Some balance every now and again would be nice. Overall though, it’s only Van Damme that really raises this otherwise forgettable effort and makes it just about worth watching.