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renowned hong kong action director tsui hark first teamed with jean-claude van damme on the action star's 1997 pairing with dennis rodman , _double_team_ , and managed to make what initially appeared to be a disaster into a slick , stylish , and somewhat diverting action timekiller .
tsui continues to energetically pile on the visual razzle dazzle in his latest collaboration with the muscles from brussels , _knock_off_ , but this time around , style neither save a script that is at best ridiculous , and at worst incomprehensible ; nor hide a host of truly lousy performances .
writer steven e . desouza's fairly straightforward plotline isn't as outre as _double_team_'s strange yarn involving a secret think tank/prison , but it makes about as much sense , which is little .
van damme plays marcus ray , a hong kong-based sales rep for a jeans company ( ! ) who stumbles upon a russian terrorist scheme to implant powerful microchip-sized bombs in hk product exports to the u . s . --dolls , electronic equipment , and , yes , jeans .
it's all part of some type of ransom scheme , but all i remember is--and i kid you not--graphics on a cia computer screen showing a map of the world , bombs detonating , and an hat-wearing figure on the other side of the world bursting out into laughter . . .
. . . which is what the crowd at the showing i attended spontaneously did throughout _knock_off_ .
while all of van damme's films have its share of unintentional laughs , mostly due to the stiff acting " skills " of the physically agile van damme , _knock_off_ delivers more than usual ( though not as many as van damme's embarrassing directorial effort , 1996's _the_quest_ ) .
a lot of the laughs are earned by some particularly painful lines by desouza : " i smoked that badass like a roman candle ! "
and " entrepreneurship , babycakes ! "
standing out among my favorites .
but it is indeed the pathetic performances that provide the bulk of _knock_off_'s laughs .
van damme is true to laughable form , perhaps even worse than usual .
early scenes actually _require_ him to make funny with co-star rob schneider ( improbably cast as a deep cover cia agent posing as marcus's business partner ) , and the sight and sound of the still-heavily-accented van damme haplessly trying to drop punchlines is hilarious in the wrong way .
even typically good actors are not immune to the bad acting bug .
paul sorvino is unconvincing and terribly overwrought as schneider's cia superior ; and lela rochon , playing an investigator for the jeans company , spends the entire movie in perpetual snarl mode .
in rochon's defense , though , her role requires her to do little more than display her toned legs , exquisite bone structure , and perky bosoms , the latter coming in handy for one key scene where she must fish for microbombs stuck in her ample cleavage .
tsui picks up where he left off visually in _double_team_ , juicing up the proceedings with inventive camera work .
here , though , tsui's visual razzle dazzle borders on over kill , coming off as desperate attempts to shield the inanity of the entire enterprise .
for each nifty trick tsui pulls off , such as a recurring visual theme that has the camera literally going through the circuitry of electronic devices , there are others that are completely superfluous .
this is especially disconcerting when the trick in question could be clever when used in the right context .
for instance , one scene early on has marcus putting his hand in a box .
as he puts his hand in , the same action is shown from an overhead camera angle in a rectangle at the corner of the screen .
it's undoubtedly an interesting visual , but it would have been nice if its use actually amounted to something .
the test of a van damme movie boils down to the action sequences , but surprisingly , those in _knock_off_ leave much to be desired .
tsui does what he can to make something of them , employing freeze frames , blurred motion , and unconventional camera angles , but there is nothing fundamentally special about the fairly generic chase and fight sequences written by desouza .
there isn't anything as preposterously amusing as the climactic tiger/land mine fight in _double_team_ , let alone anything remotely close to tsui's legendary hong kong works ( but that's a given going in ) .
if tsui has any hope of approaching his countryman john woo's stateside success , he would do best to break free from van damme . . .
before it's too late .
if he continues his involvement with b-grade movies such as _knock_off_ , the respect he has from hk action fans will continue to diminish . . .
that is , if it hasn't already disappeared entirely after this fiasco .