Director: Tsui Hark
Action director: Sammo Hung
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon, Carman Lee, Michael Wong, Glen Chin, Jeff Wolfe, Leslie Cheung
This movie, Tsui Hark's second attempt at a big-budget Hollywood film, came as a bit of a puzzle to me. Tsui's previous US film, Double Team, was both a critical and box-office flop and rumors wildly circulated that Tsui and Jean-Claude Van Damme did not get along well at all. Not only that, but the film was taken out of Tsui's hands and re-edited to their "satisfaction" and it became known that Tsui generally did not like the "Hollywood system."
So why would Tsui do another movie with Van Damme? I really couldn't tell you. But after watching the movie again for this review, I got the idea that Tsui just may have wanted to play around with a lot of money. Knock Off looks great. There's a lot of experimentive camera work throughout the movie that held my attention.
It's a shame the same couldn't be said for the script. It's a horrible mish-mash that makes no sense at all. Basically, the film revolves around Van Damme, who's a "knock off" (counterfeit) artist trying to go legit before the Hong Kong handover to the Chinese. He gets mixed up (through some convoluted plot twists) with a scheme by some Russian terrorists to implant a bunch of micro-explosives into counterfeit merchandise which is headed to America. Like the recent Tokyo Raiders, there's far too many double and triple crosses to keep the story coherent at all. It doesn't help that the dialogue is just horrible. One character says to Van Damme "I treated you like a brother" to which he gives what is supposed to be a cool action movie comeback: "Yeah, like a Menendez brother." That makes no sense. The Menendez brothers treated each other very well -- it was their parents that they screwed over. The whole exchange is dated by now anyway. Any script which depends on current events for its' jokes is doomed.
The acting is simply awful as well. Van Damme is his usual wooden self. Rob Schneider, who can actually be pretty funny at times, is not believable at all as a serious actor. Lela Rochon acts like she just stepped off a soap opera (which I think she did); it sounds like she's reading off of cue cards. Even Paul Sorvino, one of the best old-school actors out there and who actually has a pivotal role in the plot, doesn't do a good job here. Some of the other Hong Kong actors like Carman Lee and Glen Chin do a decent job, but their roles amount more to glorified cameos than anything else. Speaking of cameos, there are a few sprinkled throughout the film, such as Leslie Cheung as a mechanic. But really, it's not a good sign at all when Michael Wong (who goes under the pretentious "Michael Fitzgerald Wong" for this movie) is the best actor in your movie.
Action-wise, Knock Off is underewhelming, even though Sammo Hung worked on the action sequences. It's quite obvious that Van Damme is doubled for almost all of his fights or stunts. Hung supposedly hated working with Van Damme so much that he lobbied to have his name taken off of the movie's credits. In fact, if I hadn't sat through the ending credits, I would have never known he had worked on the movie. There are a couple of cool sequences, but overall the action simply doesn't deliver. Case in point -- during the big fight at the end one of the bad guys' "special" weapons are the lenses from his glasses. What the hell?
And does Van Damme something in his contract where he has to go around semi-naked in every movie he's in? This may be a silly quibble to some, but I find it so damn annoying when Van Damme finds any excuse to show off his body. There's a sequence where he strips down to his underwear. In the movie's defense, this actually figures into the plot. But later, during the finale, his takes off his shirt for no reason whatsoever. At least we don't have the mandatory "ass shot" featured in many other Van Damme films.
Knock Off ultimately feels like many of the recent Hong Kong big-budget movies -- it looks great, but there's nothing really there. Tsui Hark -- despite having to work with Van Damme -- is capable of much better than this and I was more than a little disappointed. There are rumors around that Tsui is going to be doing a third film with Van Damme, and I hope they aren't true. Tsui's fans (as well as Tsui himself) deserve better than this.
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