Review: Enemies Closer (2013)

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Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tom Everett Scott, Orlando Jones
Director: Peter Hyams
Country: Canada | USA
Genre: Action | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Enemies Closer opens in limited release on Friday January 25th

It’s good advice, that to which the title of Enemies Closer alludes, which makes all the more a shame of the fact that the film itself never follows it. In Jean-Claude Van Damme, director Peter Hyams—who worked with the star in Timecop and Sudden Death in the mid-‘90s—has found an antagonist of appreciable campy charisma, ludicrous enough to make light fun of this knowingly flimsy narrative yet threatening enough to never undermine its action movie aspirations. If only it had managed to keep him closer: every moment Van Damme spends off-screen is another in which the film is just spinning its wheels until his return; absence may make the heart grow fonder, but in this case it also brings the beat to a standstill.

Hyams, after all, is a no-nonsense guy; he wastes little time here in cutting to the chase and ushering in Van Damme to enliven proceedings, letting the actor run loose with wild bursts of violence and even wilder anecdotes of a childhood friendship with a goose.

enemies_closer_2013_4Bedecked with a mane of blond hair that’s as much of a screen presence in itself as any of the supporting villains, Van Damme arrives in full Mountie regalia not a moment too soon into a movie that’s desperately in need of the fun he has in tow. That’s not to discredit Tom Everett Scott, the film’s de facto lead, who’s passably personable as a border forest ranger who gets caught up in this effort to retrieve a lost drug shipment. He suffers—or rather his character does—for the creaky convenience of the circumstances that land him an unwitting sidekick in his otherwise single-handed effort to enforce the law, a subplot lathered in sentiment that has no place in a movie otherwise aware of its ass-kicking intentions.

Hyams, after all, is a no-nonsense guy; he wastes little time here in cutting to the chase and ushering in Van Damme to enliven proceedings, letting the actor run loose with wild bursts of violence and even wilder anecdotes of a childhood friendship with a goose. It’s tempting to think the script from brothers Eric and James Bromberg is feeding him funnier lines; the reality, of course, is just that he sells his better than his co-stars do theirs. In his hands the Blombergs’ dialogue achieves a sublimely self-aware silliness, where others manage only to make it sound exactly as action-average as it is. Not many mouths, after all, could make “they’re carrying a load of some very naughty shit” sound sumptuous.

Like the distant plane crash shot on which the movie opens, this is remarkably economic work, keen craftsmanship disguising a doubtlessly diminutive budget.

enemies_closer_2013_3If the brothers Bromberg can’t quite bring all their characters together into the same film, Hyams at least unites them under the auspices of a distinct aesthetic palette. Acting, as ever, as his own cinematographer, the veteran visualist is equally at home in the sun-setting stretch of the film’s first act and the pitch-black conditions under which much of its action occurs. Like the distant plane crash shot on which the movie opens, this is remarkably economic work, keen craftsmanship disguising a doubtlessly diminutive budget. Particularly fetching is a late-stage sequence of simultaneous combat scenes, one lit by a spotlight shone on the fighters, the other by a fire raging behind. Hyams’ son John—director of the latest two instalments of the Universal Soldier series—cuts with a cleanness befitting so striking a dichromatic dynamic.

It’s abundantly evident from that scene and more that Hyams is as fine a filmmaker as the material might hope for, and far finer perhaps than really it deserves. It’s his work, both visually and in the manner in which he uses Van Damme, that allows Enemies Closer to transcend the tripe it might in other hands have become. But no man’s tripe is another’s steak, and there’s only so much elevation Hyams can afford his material. “These fellas want a bite, I’m gonna give ‘em a mouthful,” cries a character at one point. Such seems to be the director’s own thinking: this movie might not be the best-tasting about, but boy are we in for a generous helping.

[notification type=”star”]50/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. It’s Peter Hyams’ work, both visually and in the manner in which he uses Van Damme, that allows Enemies Closer to transcend the tripe it might in other hands have become.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.