Enemies Closer is one of those Van Damme movies that I bought and watched and completely forgot for some reason. I have a bad habit of watching movies while distracted, and that must’ve been the case here, because this is a good’un, and it features my favorite type of Van Damme character: the villain.
Van Damme, the Born Villain
Enemies Closer is actually about a park ranger/former Navy SEAL (Tom Everett Scott) encountering a man (Orlando Jones) seeking vengeance for the death of his brother under Scott’s command. While fighting, a group of drug runners led by Van Damme show up to reclaim a lost shipment, forcing the two men to form an alliance to survive, hence the title.
But the main characters are boring, and drug runners finding a lost shipment is pretty boring, too. Thankfully, Van Damme dances into this movie as a vegan, environmentalist fucking psycho.
Van Damme was clearly given free reign to do any goofy shit he wanted to do in this film, but his character is also written that way. He talks about being a vegan and worrying about his carbon footprint and shit, but it has nothing to do with the plot. It’s simply an added detail to make him more unique than the boring dudes he’s trying to kill/recruit during his mission.
The vegan/environmentalist stuff may sound a bit goofy, and the film is very aware of it. Van Damme’s character is very brutal (he kills a roomful of innocent border agents near the beginning), but it’s all kept fairly light. I dug this because it reminded me of the fun villains of the ‘90s. Back then, a psycho was just a psycho. He didn’t need to be a gritty genius with a meticulous plan. A villain back then was simply the bad guy because the movie needed a bad guy, so why not make him fun. This is the philosophy of Van Damme’s villain in Enemies Closer.
What’s most amusing about the environmentalist stuff is that Van Damme could use that as his excuse to kill some people, but he doesn’t. After he complains about the carbon footprint, why not have him kill a guy, then talk about how it’s balanced out now? It’s not like his motivations in general have to be environmental (running heroin isn’t necessarily bad for the environment, I suppose, but it’s certainly not actively improving it, either), but just have it be something he can reference after killing people. But no, he just loves the environment, and he kills people, and there’s no crossover.
Though his veganism and environmentalism do not add to the plot, it is explained by Van Damme late in the film. As a child, he had a favorite goose that he named Edith. But his family thought it was funny, so his grandmother fed him the goose. Upon learning this, he became a vegan...and a murderer because he killed his grandmother for it.
That’s a hell of an origin story. Add some more goofy shit, like dancing for no reason as he explains a plan or picking wild strawberries after killing two dudes, and you have a truly fun villain. It makes me wonder why Van Damme doesn’t take on more roles like this.
It’s possible that because Van Damme had to play a villain a few times early on (most notably in No Retreat, No Surrender) that once he got to be the hero he always wanted to be the hero. After his breakout success, the only time he would even play someone even borderline “bad” was in Double Impact, and that didn’t seem to count since he also played the clean cut twin of that character. It wasn’t until Replicant that he got to go all in as a villain again. But, once again, he also played an innocent clone of the character.
The most high-profile non-innocent-clone-or-twin villainous role was that of Vilain (yes, his name is literally the word “villain,” but with one “L”) in The Expendables 2, and he is easily the best part of the movie.
Part of Van Damme being a natural villain is that it is so against type. Sure, Van Damme has played morally compromised characters plenty of times, especially in the latter, DTV portion of his career. But those characters almost always end up being heroic in one way or another. Van Damme may enjoy being portrayed as the hero, but as an actor, it seems like he flat out loves being the bad guy.
Being bad is freeing, and Van Damme embraces it and makes each performance interesting. In this film and The Expendables, he gets to ham it up and make it entertaining. In Replicant, it’s more about showing his darker side. In Day of Reckoning, it was a chance to truly branch out as an actor.
Van Damme clearly sees these villainous roles as an opportunity to prove himself as something more than the “splits guy.” Hopefully, he takes some more bad guy roles in the future because he was born for it.
The Hyams-Van Damme Connection
Peter Hyams directed this film along with Sudden Death and Timecop. Peter’s son, John, has directed Dragon Eyes, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. I need to revisit Dragon Eyes, but the rest of these films are definitely top-tier Van Damme movies. It seems as if the Hyamses have a special bond with Van Damme, but Enemies Closer is the last collaboration with the father or son, and it came out in 2013.
Hopefully, Van Damme can get another project going with one of them. I would prefer it to be John, mainly because of the batshit crazy direction he took the Universal Soldier franchise in with Day of Reckoning, which ended up being like Nicolas Winding Refn movie with Van Damme channeling Colonel Kurtz. John also recently directed Alone, which was one of my favorite films last year.
Peter, on the other hand, hasn’t made a movie since Enemies Closer. He is older, and the film wasn’t a commercial success, so it’s possible that his filmmaking career is over. But that’s unfortunate because Van Damme needs directors like Peter Hyams, who can effortlessly craft a thriller and allow Van Damme to do something unique.
Even if Van Damme doesn’t work with Peter or John again, at least they’ve made some quality films together that run the gamut from traditional action/sci-fi films to fucked up fever dreams.
Van Damme Character Name Check
His name is Xander, and he speaks French throughout the film. That works for me.
Why Do I Own This?
It’s a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.
Random Thoughts / Favorite Quotes
I know Van Damme is the bad guy, but Tom Everett Scott making that dude dump his beer at the beginning makes him worse, even if he does let him keep his flask.
“There’s no cell service up here. I’m afraid you’ll just have to look at the lake.” This dude needs to be round house kicked so fucking bad…
Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tom Everett Scott, and Orlando Jones? This is a season of Celebrity Big Brother waiting to happen.
They must’ve cast the first fake Mountie with the accent so strong he’s almost unintelligible just to make Van Damme’s accent seem positively eloquent by comparison.
“Hey, what the fuck, Frenchie?”
“I’m the guy with the gun!”
Van Damme, holding a hostage: “And I’m the guy with the guy.”
Van Damme kills a guy with a broken CD-ROM, and that’s the best reason yet to stop using physical media. Being killed by one of my DVDs is a major fear of mine.
“No cell. Radio’s busted. There’s a GPS signal coming from the water near King’s Island. That’s where they’re headed. They’re going to the dock!” Damn, that’s some fast expository thinking, especially coming from a guy who just walked into a room full of his dead co-workers.
It sucks that they just cut to the random drunk dildo dead in a dumpster (that’s the best natural alliteration I’ve written in a while); I would’ve loved to see Van Damme kill him with a CD.
With the cabin fight, it seems like the director told Scott and Jones, “Don’t stop until you’ve used every prop in the room.” And that’s how a fight ends with a clothes iron to the face.
I can’t decide who’s the more unlikely bad ass: the dude from Dead Man on Campus or the 7 Up guy.
Of all the weird pronunciations in his repertoire, “heroin” is Van Damme’s strangest.
The two inept ICE agents who were on a fucking grocery run when their entire unit was killed seem to have been introduced just so Van Damme could kill them later on with a fucking stick and immediately pick and eat a wild strawberry afterward. I like it.
“I hate guns. They are very bad for the environment.” Are they? I mean, I know they don’t help the environment, but is gun production and use actively bad for the environment. I suppose war in general is harmful...I’m overthinking this line, aren’t I?
I was not expecting a story about a goose named Edith in this movie.
“My patience is gaining weight.”
Van Damme’s son has his fucking leg straight-up impaled in this film. Later on, he’s able to walk without even a limp and get into a fight. Van Damme must’ve demanded that his son be left alive for nearly the entire movie, otherwise this character would’ve died in the trap, and another character would’ve fought Orlando Jones near the end.
I’m not up to date on heroin prices, but is one duffel bag of it worth all this trouble?
“Fucking gasoline! I knew it would ruin everything. Ha ha ha!”
I’m okay with Van Damme dying at the end, because he’s killed by an explosion that he’s largely the cause of. Tom Everett Scott couldn’t handle Van Damme in a fight, so he had to resort to throwing a flare to ignite the gas leak that Van Damme caused. If the movie had ended with Tom Everett Scott beating Van Damme in a hand to hand fight, then it would be utter trash.