Sunday, November 24, 2013

Universal Van Damme: Derailed (2002)

Secret - so secret we never even learn what organization he's working for - agent Jacques Kristoff (Jean-Claude Van Damme, obviously) has a very bad day in front of him. Not enough that his people take him off his birthday vacation to help the thief Galina Konstantin (Laura Harring, totally Eastern European) escape from Slovakia carrying some very secret loot she's selling to his people, a thing sure to anger his wife (Susan Gibney) and kids (Jessica Bowman and authentic Van Damme son Kristopher Van Varenberg) who think he's some sort of business person. No, additionally, the train Jacques and Galina escape on after Jacques explodes some cars is hijacked by international evildoer Mason Cole (Tomas Arana) and his goons, Jacques's family makes a surprise visit on the train and now thinks he's having an affair with Galina, and the very secret loot turns out to be an upgraded variation of small pocks that of course is set free when Jacques starts playing Die Hard on a Train, infecting everybody on board.

Fortunately, Jacques can shoot, knows That Kick, drives motorcycles on roofs of moving trains, and is totally honourable too.

Bob Misiorowski's Derailed, produced by Van Damme's own company in cooperation with the usual suspects (I really need to get around to computing the percentage of Van Damme films involving Boaz Davidson in some capacity), is how I imagine most people not as involved in actually watching these films imagine all Van Damme movies are: cheap, dumb, and full of the sort of ridiculous action movie cheese that either leaves you giggling happily or rolling your eyes a lot (I prefer the former). Van Damme rides a motorcycle on the roof of a moving train for gods sake, and when one of his henchmen tells Cole he fell off doing this, Cole's reaction does not contain words to the effect of "wait, he drove what where?"!

Because doing Die Hard on a Train alone would be a bit too boring (one can't fall behind the achievements of Steven "The Whale" Seagal, after all), somebody involved in the production had the brilliant idea to add disaster movie clichés to the action movie clichés in a gesture I can't help but find quite daring. Not surprisingly, Derailed's interpretation of the disaster movie genre is even more low-rent than that of the action movie (or is it the Die-Hard-alike?), so don't go and expect the one-note characters to be played by Hollywood stars past their prime, or George Kennedy (a man perpetually past his prime). On the other hand, the mild melodramatic contortions the film goes through with small pocks and train engines on fire do result in a complete lack of slack in the film. When Van Damme isn't kicking people in the face, there's guaranteed to be some sort of train problem, a Texan losing his shit over the small pocks outbreak, Van Damme's doctor wife doing heroic disaster movie doctor stuff, or something else to distract a viewer from the horrible emptiness of the universe and the cold glare of the stars.

Given this, you really can't say the film isn't working hard for its money (there are also unconvincing CGI and miniature effects to admire). Sure, it's dumb, sure, it spits on your notions of logic and gravity, but it's also lacking boring attempts at self-irony, and contains lots of scenes of Van Damme doing Van Damme things; though if you're coming for nearly nude Van Damme or ass-shots of our hero, you'll probably leave rather disappointed.

Be that as it may (and heterosexual me has seen JCVD nearly nude so often, I'm starting to get confused when he keeps his pants on), I know, it's only a cheap Die Hard rip-off with disaster movie elements, but I like it.

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