Double Impact

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“Double Impact” takes its title from the fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme plays two characters in it. The strange thing is, contrary to all the prevailing theories of mathematics, the impact of having two Van Dammes in one movie is not doubled, it is halved. Two Van Dammes have only half the impact of one Van Damme. Three Van Dammes would presumably create one-third the impact that one Van Damme makes. If you had 100 Van Dammes in a film, their collective impact would be just 1% of the impact produced by one Van Damme. A thousand Van Dammes would make an impact so small that you wouldn’t even notice Van Damme was in the film — even though there were a thousand of him.

When he made “Double Impact,” Van Damme — aka “Muscles from Brussels,” aka “the Belgian Awful,” aka “That Guy Who Makes Movies Where He Fights a Lot … Not Steven Seagal, the Other One … Yeah, Him” — had already delighted audiences with his knack for kickboxing and bloodsport in films like “Kickboxer” and “Bloodsport.” “Double Impact” allows him to play identical twins, which you will immediately recognize as a poor choice given that acting — i.e., creating a distinct, well-defined character — is not his strong suit. Asking Van Damme to play two different people is like asking a man with no arms to juggle.

Van Damme’s twins are named Chad and Alex, separated at the age of 6 months when their parents were killed in Hong Kong by gangsters. (Dad was a businessman involved in building a tunnel between Hong Kong Island and the mainland.) The family’s Chinese nanny escaped with Alex, whom she deposited at an orphanage run by French nuns (and evidently left a note telling them Alex’s name, since he’s still called Alex years later), while the family’s American bodyguard, Frank (Geoffrey Lewis), managed to save Chad, raise him in France, and then bring him to Los Angeles. Alex’s nuns being French and Chad being brought up in France are details inserted to explain Chad and Alex’s identical accent … which unfortunately is Belgian, not French. But at least someone involved in the movie thought to address the issue, however incompetently.

Now the boys are 25 years old and are unaware of one another’s existence until they meet at summer camp, where they trade hairstyles and sing Annette Funicello songs. Or perhaps I am thinking of “The Parent Trap.” Yes, that’s it. In “Double Impact,” Chad is a karate master and part-time aerobics instructor at a facility owned by Uncle Frank, while Frank has spent the last quarter-century looking for Alex. He believes he has found him now, still living in Hong Kong, and he takes Chad to meet him.

It turns out Alex is a tough guy (as tough as a guy with a Belgian accent can be, anyway), with slicked-back hair, a fondness for cigars, and a leggy blond girlfriend named Danielle (Alonna Shaw). He makes a living as a smuggler, so I guess those nuns didn’t do him much good. The two brothers meet when Alex walks in on Danielle seducing Chad, which happened because she thought he was Alex when he walked into the mah-jongg den where she hangs out. Whoops!

Chad and Alex have gotten off on the wrong foot here, but they soon turn their attentions to getting revenge on the men who killed their parents. Frank lays it all out for them: There was a British man named Nigel Griffith (Alan Scarfe), and a Chinese mobster named Zhang (Philip Chan). They are the Bad Guys. The specifics of why they killed Chad and Alex’s parents are unimportant, or at least I assume they are, since the movie breezes over them in a couple sentences. Bad guys, mobsters, killed your folks, yada yada, the end.

As it happens, Danielle works for Griffith, and she cannot believe he’s shady, thus providing more evidence for the theory that Danielle is impossibly dimwitted. She agrees to poke around in the files, though, I guess in the hopes that she’ll find a folder labeled “Twins’ Parents, Murder of.” While doing this, she is accosted by a lesbian dominatrix security guard (I am not making this up), who alternates between telling Danielle to get away from the filing cabinet and trying to have sex with her. Whatever thought process was involved in putting this in the movie, I do not wish to understand it.

So Alex’s girlfriend happens to work for one of the two guys responsible for the death of Alex’s parents. Would you like some more outrageous coincidences? The other guy responsible, Zhang, approaches Alex with a smuggling job! Except it’s not Alex, it’s Chad. And Chad, posing as Alex, turns down the deal on the grounds that it involves cocaine, and this rejection results in Chad — who is a karate expert, you’ll recall — getting his butt kicked by Zhang’s half-blind henchman and dumped in an alley downtown. You would think that Zhang would just kill Chad, especially since he already told him where and when the cocaine was being delivered, but maybe Zhang is not very smart, either. Maybe nobody in this movie is very smart. Maybe the whole system’s out of order!

Then there’s a big shootout at the docks where the cocaine delivery is happening. The shootout follows this pattern: Chad and Alex hide behind things; they leap out and shoot at the bad guys; they always hit their targets; then they hide behind some more things. The bad guys attempt to follow the same pattern, except that none of their bullets ever come close to hitting Chad or Alex. This is a time-honored device in bad action movies, and it never stops being boring, though I note this did not prevent the makers of “Double Impact” from letting the sequence run for about 45 minutes.

Once THAT’S over with, Chad and Alex can move on to their primary goal of failing to kill Griffith and Zhang. The two bosses are meeting together at Zhang’s nightclub, which the twins infiltrate with bombs hidden in crates of cognac. (Apparently they went to the Wile E. Coyote school of assassination plots.) The bombs go off right there in the room where Griffith and Zhang are sitting, but the villains do not die. The movie does not explain this.

Then, while hiding out at an old property that Frank owns, preparing for their next ineffectual attack, Chad and Alex have a squabble. Alex has been wary of Chad ever since he walked in on him accidentally being sexed up by Danielle. So when Chad takes off one day to pick up Danielle after she calls the hideout in a panic, worried that Griffith is on to her snooping around, Alex assumes the worst. He vividly imagines Chad and Danielle having sex — and I mean vividly, with soft-porn lighting and steamy music and everything. It’s the film’s only sex scene, and it’s only happening in Alex’s head.

Try not to think about the ramifications of a man daydreaming about his identical twin brother having sex. I dare you! Try!

(Side note: While Alex is lingering on these fantasy images, he angrily punches the following objects: a shelf, a wall, and a telephone. Just FYI.)

Of course Chad and Danielle didn’t really have sex, and there’s no reason to think they would. When they get back to the hideout, Alex is furious, and Danielle says, “It’s not what it seems!” Which is weird, because what it seems like is that Chad was nice enough to pick up his brother’s girlfriend and give her a ride over. Alex is unconvinced, however, and he and Chad get into a fistfight requiring a lot of trick photography and stuntmen who vaguely look like Van Damme from behind. After the fight, Alex calls Chad a “faggot,” which contradicts his original thesis, which was that Chad had boned his girlfriend. Also, not for nothin’, but Chad wasn’t the one daydreaming about his brother having sex. I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, the brothers reconcile (I don’t remember or care how) just in time for the final battle against Griffith and Zhang, which finally results in the death of both bad guys, which means the movie can finally be over. Many necks are snapped in the skirmish — that is Chad and Alex’s primary maneuver in hand-to-hand combat — and both twins wind up shirtless for the bulk of the action. This seems to occur naturally, as if the mere act of fisticuffs causes their shirts to melt away from their bodies. This is probably a very useful evolutionary advantage that developed over the course of hundreds of generations of Van Dammes living in the jungles of Belgium. Who knows, maybe a bit of luck in the natural-selection process will eventually lead them to develop an acting gene, too.

— Film.com