Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Orlando Jones, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Director: Peter Hyams
Spare a thought for Peter Hyams. Back in the ’90s he was a successful director – not an A-lister, but not a douche either – making crowd-pleasing medium-budget pictures such as Timecop ($27 million) and The Relic ($40 million). But things haven’t been the same for him since that Schwarzenegger turkey End of Days ($83 million). Now he’s teamed up with his old buddy Jean-Claude Van Damme on a modest outward bound actioner, budgeted at a mere $5 million. $5 million? Once you take out Van Damme’s fee and the salary of his personal chef, that doesn’t leave a whole lot to play with.
Sporting a mad professor hairdo, Van Damme plays the leader of a bunch of French-Canadian mercenaries who cross over the border into the US in the search of a plane full of heroine that has taken a nosedive into the Great Lakes just off the shore of a remote island. Standing in their way is the island’s mild-mannered park ranger, Henry (Tom Everett Scott). He’s an ex-Navy SEAL, but these days he’s more used to picking up the litter than putting out the human trash. Plus he’s not having a good day, because another man, Clay (Orlando Jones) is also on the island trying to kill him, for personal reasons to do with Henry’s sad backstory.
Can Henry band together with Clay to fight the common enemy? You really wish he wouldn’t, because Clay is so horribly self-righteous and trigger-happy. But then, Henry is a bit wet and doesn’t win a single fight by himself throughout the entire movie, so perhaps it’s just as well. Just as well, also, then, that we have Van Damme on the scene to command our attention, slitting throats, breaking bones and murdering the English language. You really can’t take your eyes off him, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.
And to be fair, if you can squint and wish away the Henry-Clay subplot, the film does have its moments. To his credit, Hyams makes the small budget work for him by delivering some well-choreographed, pleasantly lo-fi fisticuffs. There’s one that takes place high a tree that’s good enough to perhaps make tree-fights a thing in the future. And the location photography is so nice you might feel inspired to visit the Great Lakes, although that would be a mistake because the movie was actually shot in Bulgaria. Not the best action film you’ll ever see about a guy haunted by his past taking on a gang of criminals in the woods, but for $5 million, not bad.