Sony // 2006 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 15th, 2006
It's time to take charge!
The Muscles from Brussels may be a little long in the tooth, but he's still got some bite. Jean-Claude Van Damme suits up for a round of insurgents-wasting in this made-for-DVD actioner.
It's some war-torn eastern European nation, and the place has gone to hell in a knapsack. Insurgents have stormed the capital and are demanding the head of the sitting president. The newly arrived deputy ambassador, Commander Sam Keenan (Van Damme, Timecop) has just arrived at the American embassy and volunteers to bring back the president. But events reach critical mass and the insurgents, led by Anton Tavarov (Velibor Topic), the cool-headed renegade bastard provoking the violence, open fire. Keenan barely makes it back with the president, but the fight isn't over yet.
Fifty Americans are holed up in the embassy, and an expansive militia is forming at the gates to crash the building and drag out the president by any means necessary. To defend the embassy, Keenan has only 15 or so Marines, a pain-the-balls CIA bureaucrat (William Tapley), limited ammunition, and his own bad-assitude to hold the line until American reinforcements arrive.
With the bad guys mustering, a power struggle taking place within the embassy, and help hours away, it will fall to Keenan to save the president, the embassy, the 50 refugees, his girlfriend, the embassy's housecat, and any other damn fool that needs saving.
What can I say? Second in Command held my attention all the way through to the end. It's developed into a trend, me being surprised by a handful of direct-to-DVD action releases. The surprise? They haven't sucked total butt. This film is the latest I've sat down with and it's actually the best. Despite the lame, forgettable title and the presence of a profoundly washed-up Van Damme, Second in Command works it straight up like a respectable action movie should.
This movie is basically a blending of Assault on Precinct 13 and Black Hawk Down. The setting is limited solely to the American embassy and the street outside, and the action unfurls with a pants-load of scummy eastern European (surprise!) bad guys laying siege. It's an impossible odds story, but the thing is successful because the good guys are some kick-ass Marines who are hugely out-numbered, but utter red-meat one-liners like "We'll give them what they want -- we'll give them hell!" And, rest assured, that ham-fisted dialogue is backed up with requisite mayhem.
That's why I liked this movie: everything that the simple premise sets up, the filmmakers delivered with gunplay, explosions, and eye gouges. There are no copouts here. We expect a major assault on the embassy, and though there is one point in the film where it looks like this set-piece may not be realized, a twist occurs and all hell breaks loose. Marines snipe, toss grenades, rescue hostages, mow down lines of insurgents, construct rudimentary claymore bombs packed with office supplies, and basically act like nutbusters. In fact, the only dude on our side who acts the most like a douche bag is the CIA guy. I guess it's just refreshing to see, for once, American protagonists in an action film all pretty much decent people without having to resort to half-assed oil conspiracy or something that puts them in cahoots with the villains.
As for said villains, these hombres are sufficiently Euro-trashy, just as I like them (though it is difficult to ignore the elephant in the room, that eastern Europe isn't exactly the hotbed of gunfire and marauders trying to take down a fledgling democracy these days; we'll see if a studio one day has the balls to make that movie). Their main bad guy broods a lot, but serves his purpose best by inexplicably charging into the battle all by himself, which sets up the inevitable one-on-one final fight with Mr. Van Damme.
That brouhaha turns out okay. JVD's face looks a bit weathered, but he's still fit, unlike some of his peers (e.g., Steven "Someone's Dad" Seagal). Though he's not leaping around and throwing out his triple roundhouse kicks like was doing back in his Bloodsport days, he is still capable of handling himself on the small screen, disabling a few foes here with some righteous hand-to-hand moves. His face-off with the main heavy is well-done, with the two trading elbows to the face and knife swipes. A sweet FBGD (Final Bad Guy Death) awaits.
Not to leave the impression that we're dealing with epic filmmaking here, a few minuses: while most of the pyrotechnics are impressive, whenever CGI rears its ugly heads, it's, well, ugly. During the siege scene, rebels open fire with tanks and heavy fire on the embassy, and the bullet holes and explosions are all crap-rendered computer imagery. The explosions look especially bad, coming across more like budget Roman Candles than artillery shell. Also, it's pretty predictable. In a shootout movie like this, a lot of the fun comes in being surprised at who gets wasted; you should have little problem figuring out who's going to emerge from the embassy when the smoke clears.
Still, I enjoyed this movie. It was lean and mean and earned its R rating.
Though the extras are MIA, technically, the film scores. A 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports colors that are earthy and faded (deliberately so), but the picture quality is decent. The 5.1 mix is suitably aggressive, with the LFE the high point, pounding away mightily during the onslaughts.
Second in Command isn't a bad way to kill 85 minutes. If you like your action flicks populated by smarmy Marines and perforated Eastern European terrorists, this flick should bake your noodle fine.
The accused is allowed to report back to active duty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R