Review: Maximum Risk (1996)


Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Zach Grenier, Paul Ben-Victor, Frank Senger

Fight Choreography by Charlie Picerni

Directed by Ringo Lam

I wonder what it felt like in 1996, in what we’ll officially call on this website from here on out “A.R.”: After Rumble in The Bronx, to be JCVD or any American martial arts star, to have seen what Jackie Chan did with Rumble in the Bronx, with Supercop on the way to a stateside release. Could they feel the shift of things under their collective feet? I know that as a martial arts fan, after Rumble I could feel that things had changed. Slow fight scenes, simplistic choreography just wouldn’t cut it after see that blaze of kung fu and exhilarating stunts not seen since…ever, for most Americans. But I sense that JCVD knew what was coming, and tried to align himself with other HK directors in the hopes of putting out a film in the vein of their hits. John Woo, Tsui Hark and now Ringo Lam took their shots at it, and there is a long-standing rumor that all three bet that they could make the most successful JCVD film between the three of them.

Ringo Lam didn’t win, but it wasn’t due to a lack of trying nor was it the end result. It’s just that it came A.R.

JCVD once again plays what he plays best (for some reason): twins. The film begins as Mikhail Suverov (JCVD) is being chased through the streets of Nice, France by two unknown assailants. Mikhail has been obviously tortured, and is desperate to get away from them. In doing so he makes the wrong move and is killed during a car chase. Fast forward a day or so and we meet Alain Moreau (JCVD) a French detective who finds out that he had a twin brother he never knew about, but is determined to retrace his wayward brother’s tracks to find out why Mikhail was being hunted, and the connections he had with the Russian Mafia in New York City. While there Alain meets Mikhail’s girlfriend Alex (Henstridge) and together they discover that Mikhail was is deep trouble with factions within the mafia, as well as the FBI, and Alain finds that he can’t trust anybody…

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This film is the closest we’ll get to a JCVD spy thriller, and for the most part, it works. Alain has plenty of reasons to find out what happened to his brother, and his conversation with his mother is surprisingly effective, and JCVD had the acting chops to pull it off. Natasha Henstridge is okay as Alex, but isn’t much more than eye candy here. Paul Ben-Victor has made a career of playing assholes who happen to be law enforcement officers, and he is great here as FBI Agent Pellman, who needs Alain and what he knows about Mikhail. The story is well told, and Ringo Lam does include some of his classic dolly shots and camera trickery, but none of the verve and energy seen in his HK product (that could be said for Woo and Hark too).

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There aren’t many fight scenes, but JCVD does have a couple of good scrapes with a large Russian, whom he faces in a burning building and then in a sauna, and finally in an elevator, all of which are well done, but not overly complicated. Just simple, but in a good way. JCVD looks great as he always does. No really standout fights, but solid work all around.

(as an aside, if I had control of the film, Alain would be dealing with the Italian mafia, and thus go to Italy. Monica Bellucci would have replaced Natasha Henstridge. But that’s just me, folks.)

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 7

A really solid if not spectacular JCVD film that tells a good story peppered with good action. It was just born at the wrong time!