Judge David Johnson keeps his enemies close, but his awesome Van Damme movies closer.
Keep your friends close.
In case you may have accidentally clicked on this review, let me impart this wisdom before you leave…Go and Buy This Movie Immediately!
Facts of the Case
Henry (Tom Everett Scott, An American Werewolf in Paris) is living a quiet life as a forest ranger on a secluded island at the American/Canadian border, guiding around the occasional tourist and generally keeping to himself. But when a mysterious stranger shows up holding a vicious grudge, Henry finds himself in a desperate struggle for survival. Meanwhile, a group of drug-dealing mercenaries led by Xander (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Universal Soldier) a murderous vegan, are tearing through the wilderness intent on finding a lost cargo of heroin, mowing down anyone who gets in their way.
From the director of Sudden Death should be enough reason for anyone to get excited, but in case you need further incentive, know this: Enemies Closer is the Greatest Movie Ever Made. How could it not be? It's a cross between Firestorm and Cliffhanger, which to this point had been tied for Greatest Movie Ever Made.
Enemies Closer is about trillion times better than its milquetoast disc cover would you lead you to believe. In fact, while I find the title semi-interesting, it trends more to the "vanilla Steven Seagal actioner" than what the film truly is: an exceedingly well-paced, real-time old-school brawler punctuated by an inspired Van Damme performance.
I suppose I shouldn't overhype this, but I can't help it. I wasn't ten minutes into Enemies Closer when I knew it was going to be something special. That's when Xander first shows up and Van Damme unleashes one of the finest bad guys I've ever seen in an action film. I don't know how JCVD and director Peter Hyams hatched this creation and I don't care. Xander has all the traits you need in a fearsome antagonist—greed, fighting ability, no moral code, rampant psychoses—but throw in a strain of self-referential humor and on-the-money comedic delivery and you're dealing with more than just a paint-by-numbers petty tyrant. This man is a legend. What else can you say about a homicidal maniac who prefers riding horses because of the reduced carbon footprint? Or one who pauses in between bloody fights-to-the-death to regale his subordinates about the virtues of veganism? And then there's his final line, which is just too awesome to ruin here.
On the other side of the equation is Tom Everett Scott, an actor I would never associate with action movies. He does a fine job as a mild-mannered ranger who's packing a few skills to pay the bills under that aww-shucks facade. In fact, it's that everyman quality that makes him endearing. Orlando Jones (Sleepy Hollow) plays the aforementioned wild card stranger and a great addition to the film, ensuring Enemies Closer never slips into a binary One Bad Guy vs. One Good Guy dynamic.
Really though this is all about Van Damme. I am no rookie when it comes to imbibing on the man's movies and I've never seen a better character than this. For that alone, everyone and their grandparent of their choice needs to settle in on the family futon and give Enemies Closer a spin.
Good Blu-ray release from Lionsgate, starting with a slick clean 2.40:1/1080p transfer that does yeoman's work in transmitting the film's nighttime setting. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is aggressive and thunderous when it needs to be, which is thankfully quite often. Extras include a commentary from director Peter Hyams and a making-of featurette.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have only one nitpick. The events here take place in one night and, while the real-time element adds a jolt, the darkness of it all can be overbearing. Thankfully, Hyams—who doubles as cinematographer—positions his light sources creatively enough to illuminate the action sequences, which are a lot of fun and choreographed less as balletic exhibitions of violence and more as character-driven street-fights. The HD helps, too.
If I had the means, the skills, and the gaffers to make an action movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, one that appealed directly to my action and humor sensibilities, I'd be damn pleased if it came out a mere fraction as entertaining as Enemies Closer.
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