Most sane people don’t seek out Jean-Claude Van Damme movies for their dramatic depth. That’s like judging an Adam Sandler comedy on how eloquent a critique it offers of the American political system. So, should you sit down to watch Enemies Closer, temper your expectations. If you go in expecting cringeworthy dialogue, ridiculous plot twists, campy acting and enjoyable action sequences, you certainly won’t be disappointed. But if you feel the urge to ask Enemies Closer for anything more, then you’re watching the wrong movie.
As the film opens, a plane carrying large quantities of heroin crashes into a lake on the US-Canadian border, drawing the attention of drug dealers lead by the maniacal Xander (Van Damme). Henry (Tom Everett Scott) is a forest ranger and former Navy SEAL who lives out by the lake, tending to the park that surrounds it and attempting to forget his past transgressions while enlisted. Meanwhile, ex-con Clay (Orlando Jones) is actively hunting Henry, looking for revenge for the death of his brother, who was under Henry’s command. When, coincidentally, Xander’s crew zeroes in on Henry on the same night Clay arrives to kill him, he is forced to team up with his would-be assassin if there’s any hope of them both surviving until daybreak.
The plot, despite being weak, predictable and hole-y as Swiss cheese, does a serviceable job of holding together Enemies Closer‘s efficiently choreographed fight sequences. And that’s all Van Damme’s fans want: to see the guy pummel, kick, shoot and snark his way through every other character. He isn’t in quite enough of the fight scenes for my liking though (Xander’s henchmen prove particularly hard to kill, considering Henry and Clay only have one knife between them), which is a bit of a let-down. On the flipside, Xander does get one of the most enjoyably nutty entrances of any Van Damme character, donning a Mountie costume and scolding a base full of American security guards on their lack of eco-friendliness before unleashing the full fury of his fists (and windpipe-crushing thighs) on them. If you can look past the senselessness of it all to see that Van Damme is having a really good time, chances are that you will as well.
Though there’s nothing groundbreaking or memorable by way of the film’s fight scenes, action aficionados will still likely leave satisfied. In particular, director Peter Hyams (who previously worked with Van Damme on his hits Timecop and Sudden Death) does an impressive job of filming scenes in a forest set in the dead of night, where the large majority of Enemies Closer‘s action-heavy sequences take place. A desperate scrabble between Scott and Jones is unusually bruising and brutal, while a fight sequence between Scott and Van Damme in the high limbs of a large tree is both dizzyingly shot and completely exhilarating.
Enemies Closer‘s biggest selling point is undoubtedly Van Damme, a highly respected action icon at this point in his career. The movie finds him playing one of his most bizarre characters yet: a tree-hugging, bipolar sociopath who speaks in wild exclamations and alternately pummels his opponents into submission and regales them with stories about cow farts and vicious grandmas. It’s absurd, of course, but what’s clear early on is that Van Damme is totally committed to this oddball villain. At this stage in his career, it’s exciting to see the actor taking on more challenging parts, and though Xander is clearly just a brawnier mix of Javier Bardem’s Skyfall villain and that character’s inspiration, The Dark Knight‘s Joker (Heath Ledger), the amount of work that Van Damme put in to create a balance between the character’s comedic and sinister sides really helps the film to succeed.
Scott and Jones are also surprisingly solid in the lead roles. They don’t have much chemistry together, especially when the script sets up a very forced buddy cop dynamic for the pair, but both do solid work on their own terms. Though he’s an actor not particularly known for action hero roles, Scott makes for a likable, dramatically competent protagonist. His fighting looks natural, he doesn’t completely botch any of the dialogue and, best of all, he looks like he’s having a blast. Jones’ face seems permanently set to ‘glower,’ but he’s still charismatic and physically adept enough to balance the character’s snappy line delivery and ass-kicking abilities.
As is usually the case in testosterone-fueled fight fests like Enemies Closer, the female lead gets stranded in a dramatic no man’s land. Linzey Cocker is gorgeous and natural enough on screen to make her character, Kayla, bearable for a little while, but a could-have-been-clever twist involving her is too much for the actress to handle, and the character winds up feeling superfluous. Also, in a pretty random extended cameo as a crazy old coot living in the woods around the lake, Christopher Robbie deserves some credit for vigorously chewing the scenery. Some of his lines are downright hilarious (some intentionally, some probably not so much), but his performance injects Enemies Closer with some much-appreciated levity.
My only caution to those interested in checking out Enemies Closer is this: know what you’re getting into. Hyams and Van Damme aren’t going for dramatic depth, congruent storytelling or seamless editing here. Enemies Closer surrounds its hard-hitting action with a cornball script and a lovably over-the-top Van Damme performance. All it sets out to do is entertain, and I found that it did that quite well. Sure, I groaned, I rolled my eyes and occasionally I laughed out loud at pieces of poorly dubbed-in dialogue. But when all was said and done, I didn’t feel angry, cheated or deceived. I’d gotten pretty much exactly what I’d expected. Enemies Closer is a silly, strange action thriller that simply asks you to turn off your brain for about an hour and a half – and that’s not such a bad thing.
The Blu-Ray for Enemies Closer is equipped with a 1080p transfer, which does its best to clarify the murky, shadowy forest in which most of the film is set. Hyams did a serviceable job of bringing out the film’s wilderness setting, but the Blu-Ray for Enemies Closer was never going to have a crystal clear transfer, based on the film’s nighttime setting and low budget alone. That said, detail is typically sharp, especially when it comes to facial features (Van Damme’s shock of blonde hair, for example), and Hyams’ use of natural light is refreshing.
No problems to report with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Track, which does an overall solid job of deciphering Van Damme’s accent and mixing dialogue with background sound effects, the latter most noticeably during fight scenes in the forest. Crackling leaves, night sounds, the satisfying sounds of two guys beating the living daylights out of each other, everything’s in its place. The score is also well-implemented and non-intrusive enough to keep the focus on story.
Enemies Closer comes with just two special features, which are:
- A Closer Look: Making Enemies Closer
- Audio Commentary with Director Peter Hyams
The making-of featurette, which runs a brisk 7 minutes, focuses on Hyams’ experiences filming the fight sequences and working with Van Damme, but it also touches upon other aspects of working on a leanly scheduled and budgeted production. It’s brief but insightful enough to warrant a watch.
Hyams’ audio commentary, which fades in and out during the film if selected, is pretty laid-back and occasionally repetitive, though it makes some interesting points about the challenges he faced in filming not only in Bulgaria, but also in a dark forest and by a lake at night (according to him, two of the most tricky environments to film well). He sounds mostly satisfied with his final product, though occasionally comments Hyams makes, mostly about the tight filming period he was allotted, are tinged with noticeable regret. Overall, I wouldn’t exactly recommend the commentary – it’s spotty and sometimes overly obvious.
That said, I’m completely willing to recommend Enemies Closer to any undemanding action fan. As Xander, Van Damme is completely unhinged and turns in one of his most engaging performances to date, and the action is all serviceable enough to please those who enjoy the genre. It’s a B-movie through and through, but I had a blast with it.
If you don't expect anything groundbreaking or dramatically dynamic, you'll probably have just as much fun watching Enemies Closer as Van Damme, playing a total fruitcake of a villain, clearly did making it.