Maximum Risk

(Ringo Lam, USA, 1996)


I am a sucker for almost any film about twins, doubles, doppelgangers or clones. The wildest and most fanciful variation on this genre is the lost twin story – wherein a puzzled hero is confronted with an exact double he never even knew he had.

Maximum Risk begins boldly. Jean-Claude Van Damme is in the middle of a hair-raising car chase through narrow French streets. Then suddenly, after some bloody action, he lies dead and over him looms ... another Van Damme!

For ex-soldier Alain, taking his brother Mikhail's place to solve the mystery of his death means becoming part of a shadowy underworld. In the game of international espionage, betrayal, deceit and duplicitous appearances are de rigueur.

Maximum Risk marked the American debut of noted Hong Kong action director Ringo Lam (The Adventurers, 1995). It did not catapult him into the cult status enjoyed by his contemporaries John Woo or Tsui Hark. I am not one to dismiss action movies as formulaic and clichéd, but this takes a very unimaginative approach to stock, generic situations.

The action scenes – in all manner of locations interior and exterior – have a listless, on-the-fly quality reminiscent of the most slapdash Hong Kong productions. And supposedly dramatic turning points – such as when Alain, at the height of a violent frenzy, catches a glimpse of his grim mug in a cracked mirror – are laughable.

But the film does have its moments. Another great thing about lost twin tales is how they make nonsense of character psychology. Alex (Natasha Henstridge) spends her early scenes trying to make love to Alain, assuming he is Mikhail. But once she learns the truth, nothing changes – and the expression on her face as she eagerly disrobes clearly says: "What the hell, he looks just like the other guy".

© Adrian Martin December 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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