When you’re an actor who’s not very good at acting, one strategy you can use to camouflage your deficiencies is to find co-stars who are even worse than you are. It appears that oily European kickboxing thespian Jean-Claude Van Damme tried to go that route with “Double Team,” only to discover that very few actors were bad enough. To find someone less skilled than himself, he had to leave Hollywood altogether and find an athlete.
Enter Dennis Rodman, the 1990s “bad boy” of the NBA, whose meteoric rise to fame meant following in the path of so many athlete-celebrities before him, i.e., sleeping with Madonna and making movies. It is not known when Rodman and Madonna first slept together (only that it destroyed an entire Malaysian village), but we do know when Rodman first starred in a film. It was 1997. The film was “Double Team.” It was one of the most dire things ever to befall humanity.
The film was not “written” in the traditional sense. There was no reason to waste effort conceiving dialogue that Rodman wouldn’t be able to say convincingly and that Van Damme wouldn’t be able to pronounce. Instead, the producers gathered a few dozen screenplays from other action movies, spread all the pages facedown on the floor, then chose them at random until they had a stack big enough to be a movie. Here’s what they came up with.
Van Damme plays Jack Quinn, a CIA counter-terrorism agent who starts the film by retrieving a vehicle full of stolen plutonium, causing more property damage in the process than there would have been if he’d simply let the terrorists keep it. This was Jack’s last mission, though. Now it is three years later, and he lives in the south of France with his hot artist wife, Kathryn (Natacha Lindinger), who is pregnant with what is bound to be a very slippery and dimwitted baby.
Jack and Kathryn are frolicking in their swimming pool one afternoon when a man from the CIA appears on the deck. Jack says, “You don’t believe in front doors?” The man replies, “There’s a back door, too. You of all people should know that.” I don’t know what he’s insinuating, but Jack doesn’t seem offended.
This CIA guy, whose name is not mentioned, tells Jack in the most clichéd manner possible that his services are needed again. “You’re a hunter, Jack! You miss the game!” is one thing he says. Another thing he says is, “You want personal? I’ll give you personal: Stavros is back.” (Stavros is Jack’s old nemesis, you know.) “After all those years chasing him, you’re the only one who knows how he works, how he moves!” Jack reminds his visitor that he has retired, and that surely there are other CIA agents who were just as skilled at not capturing Stavros as he was, but the visitor is persistent in his recitation of action-movie catchphrases. “Face it, Jack. You can’t retire until he does.”
Next thing you know, Jack’s in Antwerp, meeting with a CIA-approved weapons dealer named Yaz, played by Dennis Rodman. Yaz’s hair, piercings, and general demeanor mirror Rodman’s. He’s basically playing himself, which makes it even weirder that he’s so bad at it. To be fair, dialogue like this doesn’t make it easy:
JACK: Who does your hair? Siegfried or Roy?
YAZ: The last guy who made fun of my hair is still trying to pull his head out of his ass.
JACK: I don’t want to know about your sex life.
(That particular exchange came from a screenplay called Doody Head, written by seventh-grade boys.)
An informant has revealed that Stavros will be at a Belgian amusement park this evening, so Jack assembles a team of nameless government agents who are willing to be killed in the process of continuing to not capture Stavros. Jack warns that Stavros is dangerous: “He’s like a snake. If you look him in the eyes, he’ll get you in the back!” To the lengthy list of things that Jack does not understand we will add snakes.
Sure enough, Stavros shows up. Turns out he’s Mickey Rourke! We did not see this coming. Stavros is here to meet with his 6-year-old son. Seeing the tender family reunion from atop his sniper’s perch, Jack is hesitant to pull the trigger on Stavros. His hesitation gives Stavros and his goons the opportunity to open fire on the amusement park, engaging the good guys in a firefight that leaves pretty much everyone except Jack and Stavros dead. So, you know, nice going there, Jack. Well done. They called you out of retirement to do something that anyone could have done, and then you failed to do it.
Jack and Stavros end up in a gunfight in a hospital adjacent to the amusement park (which, if you think about it, is a smart place to put a hospital). Stavros succeeds in wounding Jack and once again escapes the clutches of the law, as he has consistently done for as long as he’s been an international terrorist. And Jack wakes up on a mysterious island called The Colony, where many CIA agents who are supposedly dead still live and work, fighting global terrorism by watching surveillance cameras and typing on computer keyboards. The world’s law-enforcement agencies often miss things, so it befalls the secret island of dead agents to double-check their work. You cannot prove that such an organization does not actually exist.
Jack’s pregnant wife was told that Jack died in the battle with Stavros, which is certainly plausible, given Stavros’ success rate with that sort of thing. Jack is offered the choice to either die for real, or stay on this hidden island and fight crime the lazy way. He is not permitted to leave. All of this sounds very interesting. Shadowy groups of presumed-dead government officials, working in tandem on an uncharted island to stop terrorism? Neat! Luckily, the movie realizes that it is perilously close to being perceived as “creative” or “intriguing,” and it has Jack immediately escape from the island, never to return, the end.
He needs to escape because he learns that Stavros has kidnapped his pregnant wife. Sure, he could tell The Colony about it — catching people like Stavros who do things like kidnap pregnant women is sort of what they do — but no, Jack figures he’s better off going it alone. He may have failed to capture Stavros every single previous time he’s pursued him over the course of several years, but that only makes it a statistical probability that he’ll fail this time, not a certainty.
Remember that one time when Dennis Rodman was in this movie? Now the movie remembers, too! Jack goes to Yaz for help in getting to Stavros’ lair. “Can you fly a plane?” Jack asks. “Like a bird!” Yaz replies, unaware that birds are not very good at flying planes at all. Yaz agrees to help Jack save his wife, mostly so that he’ll have more screen time and be able to make a lot of winking references to basketball. “It’s time to get off the bench!” Yaz declares. When they jump out of their airplane, they have a basketball-shaped parachute (sure, why not?), and Yaz says, “Now that’s what I call hang time!” DO YOU GET IT? BECAUSE DENNIS RODMAN!
Well, Stavros knew Jack was coming, of course, and prepared an elaborate trap for him. The details of it aren’t important. OK, fine, it involves a fake baby and a grenade. What’s important is that it culminates in Jack leaping away from an explosion. If this film is 95 minutes long, Jack is probably airborne for a good 80 minutes of it. There’s hardly a scene that doesn’t end with Jack in the air, either leaping from or being propelled by an explosion. I wonder if most of those random script pages from which they culled “Double Team” had leaping-away-from-explosion moments, or if only a couple dozen did and they just happened to choose all of them. Now that’s what I call hang time! (Just kidding. I do not call it that.)
As you have probably already predicted, the film’s climax takes place in an empty coliseum in Rome, where Stavros has placed several land mines around a basket containing Jack’s newborn son, challenging Jack to rescue his son without setting off one of the mines or being devoured by the tiger, because Stavros has also provided a tiger. Naturally, Yaz arrives on a motorcycle and saves the baby while Jack kicks the tiger in the face. I’ll be honest, I don’t know which movie they got this page from. If there are other films in which new fathers beat up jungle cats while their sidekicks rescue their babies from a mine-filled coliseum, I have not seen them.
Sadly, despite their utter failure in Double Team, and despite the wishes of societies and governments alike, Van Damme and Rodman both continued to appear in motion pictures after this, though not together, and not very many. Van Damme, when he can find someone bad enough to star opposite him, still occasionally wanders in front of camera and winds up in a movie. Rodman, on the other hand, has essentially disappeared altogether. It’s possible he existed only in the 1990s, and maybe not at all. This will come as good news to Madonna, who had trouble moving on.