Maximum Risk (1996)
Maximum Risk (1996)

Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.

Release Date: September 13th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ringo Lam Actors: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge, Zach Grenier, Paul Ben-Victor, Frank Senger, Jean-Hugues Anglade

 


 

“M

aximum Risk” is the title given to an actioner when the filmmakers have absolutely no idea what to call it. Considering the project deals with twins (shockingly, this marks the second time in just five years that Jean-Claude Van Damme plays dual roles as identical twins), mobsters, crooked FBI agents, and a surplus of car chases, it’s a wonder that a less generic title wasn’t devised. Nevertheless, “Maximum Risk” manages, somewhat miraculously, to be quite amusing – and one of the most adrenaline-rushing of Van Damme’s string of ‘90s features (though it’s not difficult to top “Death Warrant,” “Nowhere to Run,” “Hard Target,” and “Sudden Death”).

The film opens to an intense chase sequence in the south of France, where Mikhail Suverov is chased down by hordes of heavily armed men. When Mikhail’s luckless escape ends in demise, policeman Alain Moreau (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is called in to examine the body – which shockingly possesses a face mirroring his own! After unveiling the fact that Mikhail was his undisclosed twin brother, Alain assumes the dead man’s identity to locate the killers for some swift justice… or revenge.

Alain returns to the United States in search of ties to Mikhail’s friends and family – the Russian mafia. Gangster nerves are instantly rattled when Mikhail is seen alive and well, while his gorgeous girlfriend Alex (Natasha Henstridge), who can’t wait to get reacquainted (“Don’t even think about going to sleep – we’ve got a lot of catching up to do”), whisks him away to safety. But Alain isn’t afraid to wield appalling aggression to stop those who stand in his way, marking him as an unusually violent antihero. Without a moment’s peace, guns start to blaze, knives are brandished, pursuits ensue, traitors surface, and shady officials descend upon Alain and Alex, who quickly realize that their opponents aren’t interested in negotiating – just killing.

“Parents always lie to their children to prepare them for how they’ll be treated by the government,” explains Sebastien (Jean-Hugues Anglade), Alain’s cop friend in France. While the dialogue remains appropriately cheesy, the hectic chases are clearly above standard, the fight sequences are expertly choreographed (by Charles Picerni, the stunt coordinator behind “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon 2,” and “True Lies”), and Natasha Henstridge’s nude scene is perfectly placed. Whether demolishing a strip joint, repeatedly wrestling an impossibly large henchman, careening through New York in stolen vehicles, or fighting in burning bathhouses, Van Damme proves that although he isn’t much for words (he does manage to apologize when stealing rides), he sure knows how to kick ass.

Perhaps the most riveting sequence in “Maximum Risk” is the bathhouse fight, which almost certainly influenced (if only on a subconscious level) Cronenberg’s similar, unbelievably shocking skirmish in “Eastern Promises” (2007). Later, another less influential moment exists just to meet formulaic action film quotas: when Alain and Alex are prisoners, instead of plotting their escape, they make time for a steamy love scene. And finally, the conclusion instantaneously takes place in an unlikely location that can only be described as a throwback to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Although director Ringo Lam made practically nothing else in the U.S. (he hails from Hong Kong), save for a couple more Van Damme pictures, he proves that exciting action sequences go a long way in tying together a cinematic adventure, even if the plot is more or less irrelevant.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10