Saturday, April 19, 2014

Universal Van Damme: The Order (2001)

Rudy Cafmeyer (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is one of those charming rogues and cat burglars one hears so often about, though with a side-line in kicking people in the face, because he’s JCVD. Rudy’s father Oscar (Vernon Dobtcheff), a professor of archaeology doesn’t approve of his son’s lifestyle, curiously enough.

Right now, Oscar is concerning himself with a mysterious and secret (so secret, we will later learn, they’re on the TV news in Israel) sect. He seems to have found the lost final part of the group’s holy book, so off he goes to Israel where he disappears without a trace.

Of course, Rudy travels to Israel to find his Dad, and soon finds himself chased through Jerusalem by bad people with guns as well as the Israeli police. During the course of his adventures, Rudy will team up with honest cop Dalia (Sofia Milos), watch Charlton Heston die, save his dad, fight crazy cultists, and will just perhaps also save the world from total destruction.

For at least the first half of its running time, Van Damme veteran Sheldon Lettich’s The Order is a pretty family friendly action adventure with broad comedic touches, the kind of film you could imagine watching with your imaginary children, at least if you are a desensitised monster like I am. Tonally, it’s an attempt to fuse classic Van Damme-isms like That Kick with elements of the post-Indiana Jones adventure movie and a bit of daft yet pleasant Da Vinci code historical conspiracy nonsense (which did exist long before Dan Brown descended from his spaceship).

The film does grow increasingly strange and a bit more violent the longer it goes on, though, with many a minor character dying while the whole affair’s tone – which started out quite comic-book like anyway – shifts into full-out, yet cost-conscious craziness, with a pretty stupid coup d'état among the sectarians that leaves Brian Thompson in charge to fulfil a dubious prophecy even after he knows the dubious prophecy is actually false, and stupid main henchmen Ben Cross deciding that he’ll still have use for money on his Swiss bank account after he has helped his boss start World War III, and all sorts of off-handed craziness.

The film’s strangest – and potentially offensive to the easily offended, which is to say at least half of the inhabitants of the Internet – part comes quite a bit earlier though, when Jean-Claude disguises himself as a Hasidic Jew to escape police attention only to end up in a prolonged chase sequence full of other dubious national stereotypes (also to be found in the curiously upmarket Pino Donaggio soundtrack) and some Jackie-Chan-lite choreography.

What all this adds up to is certainly not what Serious People will call a good film, but, as somebody perhaps not all that serious, I found myself rather charmed and certainly entertained by The Order’s comic book nonsense, the hammy acting (Jean-Claude is the most subdued actor on screen!), and the all-around cheap professionalism of the production.

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