Screenplay : Larry Ferguson
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Jean-Claude Van Damme (Alain/Mikhail), Natasha Henstridge (Alex), Zach Grenier (Ivan Dzasokhov), Jean-Hugues Anglade (Sebastien), Paul Ben-Victor (Agent Pellman), Frank Senger (Agent Loomis)
Whenever I see a movie like "Maximum Risk" and tell everybody how bad it is, I always get the response of: "Well, it's just an action movie. It's not supposed to be great or anything."
I find that annoying because nothing is farther from the truth. Just because a film is in the action genre, it does not have a license to be mediocre. You don't have to look any further than "The Fugitive," "Die Hard," "Lethal Weapon," or any of John Woo's Hong Kong action flicks to see that pulp action movies can be great films with the capability of raising the art of filmmaking to a higher level.
So why were these films so good and "Maximum Risk" so bad? One word: characters.
No matter what kind of film you're dealing with, if the audience can't sympathize with the characters, nothing else matters. This is especially true in action films where much of the emotion is reliant upon the characters making their way through life-threatening situations. If you don't care whether the characters live or die, there is no excitement and the action falls flat, no matter how many cars are crashed or how loud and fiery the explosions are.
Apparently, no one told this to director Ringo Lam. His direction often borders on ineptitude, especially during the myriads of fight sequences that are supposed to be the life support system holding the scattered pieces of this movie together. The plot moves along so that a mandatory fight scene is sure to pop up every fifteen minutes to make sure the audience isn't snoozing, but Lam manages to botch at least half of these scenes with shaky camerawork and scrappy editing.
Jean-Claude Van Damme gives his typical one-note performance in the lead role where he says his sparse lines with the same deadpan stare. Natasha Henstridge, known for her sexy/slimy role in last year's "Species," attempts to make up for this lack of emotion in her supporting role, but it is quickly evident by the end of the movie that her purpose in the film is to supply the female for the obligatory sex scene, and to give Van Damme someone to rescue during the ludicrous finale which takes place in a giant meat locker and involves a bad guy trying to kill Van Damme with a chainsaw.
The film opens in the South of France where Van Damme is being chased through the streets by enemies. He dies at the end of the chase, but we soon learn that this is not the main character of the film. It turns out this was Mikhail, twin brother to Alain Moreau, a French police officer who never knew he had a brother. From here, Alain decides to find out about his long-lost brother by traveling to New York's tough neighborhood Little Odessa, where the movie descends into a confusing plot involving Russian mafia, crooked FBI agents, and a secret list locked away in a French bank.
Larry Ferguson, whose previous credits include co-scripting "The Hunt For Red October" and "Alien 3," appears to have written this one while he was bored one afternoon and didn't have anything better to do. Coincidence and accidental discoveries account for almost everything, the characters are devoid of motivation and personality, and the dialogue is flat and lifeless.
"Maximum Risk" even makes the unforgivable sin of having boring villains. Oftentimes, an otherwise lame action film can be helped extensively by a memorable villain that incites the distaste of the audience so that even if they don't care much for the hero, they at least want to see the baddie get what's coming to him. In "Maximum Risk," the central villain, Ivan (played by Zach Grenier) is a snivelling worm who strikes no fear and isn't even worth Van Damme's fists. When he finally gets killed, you just have to shrug you shoulders and say, "Yeah? So?"
Thus, without an interesting hero, competent action, or good villains, "Maximum Risk" spirals into a descending web of boredom, and I found myself looking at my watch more than the screen, hoping the movie would end long before it did.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat