Jean-Claude Van Damme should play the villain more often. His turn as the baddie in The Expendables 2 was one of the most memorable things about that over-the-top flick. With the low-budget thriller Enemies Closer, Van Damme is given another juicy villain to play: a flamboyant vegan environmentalist drug-trafficking sociopath named Xander. From the moment Xander is introduced, wearing cloth shoes and a stolen Mountie uniform, sporting a shocking red mane that makes him look a bit like Yahoo Serious's brother, you know that you're in for a pulpy good time.
In fact, apart from the vicious fight scenes and bloody shoot-outs, Enemies Closer could have been a lean, mean Warner Bros. B programmer from the old days. Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!) is Henry, a former military officer who has been working as a park ranger on an uninhabited island near the Canadian border. Henry has been hiding from the world, trying to get his head together, but apparently he didn't hide well enough. Sleepy Hollow's Orlando Jones plays Clay, the brother of a man who died under Henry's command. Clay comes to the island seeking an eye for an eye, but before he can kill Henry, Xander and his crew show up looking for a plane that crashed in the nearby water, holding a massive heroin shipment. When Clay shoots Xander's deep sea diver during an introductory gunfight, the bad guys decide to pursue the qualified Henry to do the dive and get the drugs. Henry and Clay are forced to team up to find a way off the island, away from the drug dealers.
Veteran helmer Peter Hyams has directed Van Damme before on Timecop and Sudden Death. He also was the cinematographer on the recent, surprisingly solid Van Damme sequel, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, which was directed by his son, John Hyams. (John repays the favor by performing editing duties on this flick.) According to his audio commentary, Hyams agreed to do this low-budget flick only if Van Damme took on the villain role, and you can see Hyams takes pleasure in highlighting the bad guy's darkly comic side. Unfortunately that also means that a lot of the scenes between Tom Everett Scott and Orlando Jones, who are ostensibly our heroes, lack much of that same zing. Therefore even at a sleek 85 minutes, Enemies Closer feels a little flabby in the middle. For most of the time spent running around in the dark with Scott and Jones, repetitive arguments take the place of more inventive character development.
But when the good guys and the bad guys are finally forced into confrontation, and all that build-up pays off with back-to-back-to-back action sequences in the final 25 minutes, the flick fires on all cylinders and send viewers off on a suitably charged-up note.
The AVC-encoded 1080p 2.40:1 image is decent for a low-budget actioner like this. A large portion of the film takes place outside at night, and director-cinematographer Peter Hyams is good at both creating noir-ish high-contrast shots and putting enough subtle fill in the darkness so that we can see the important details when we need to. Unfortunately, that tendency to go for bright highlights means that they blow out too frequently. Similarly, certain scenes seem to have been badly color-corrected and the color temperature of a room can change from shot to shot within the same scene. Some shots also reveal tons of banding around the bright light sources. It's a shame because Hyams nails it more often than he doesn't, making these stray ugly-looking shots stand out even more.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio is a real gut rumbler, with lots of satisfying LFE going on. There are also plenty of directional effects during the action sequences, and a solid overall atmosphere during the quieter moments. The dialogue and music sound good. The disc also features Spanish subtitles and English SDH.
- Audio commentary with director-cinematographer Peter Hyams - This is a pretty informative, interesting track. Hyams mostly focuses on the technical aspects of the film, and more often comments on his work as a cinematographer than as a director.
- A Closer Look: Making Enemies Closer (HD, 7:31) - A pretty solid behind-the-scenes featurette with some on-set footage and talking heads from Hyams and the cast.
While it drags a little in the middle, Enemies Closer has an intriguing opening and a satisfying wham-bang conclusion. Jean-Claude Van Damme should continue to play hammy villains if he knows what's good for him. Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new single, "Gotta Stop (Messin' About)," is now available to stream or download on Amazon, Apple, Spotify, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.