am easy to please, which is why I am a sucker for
siege movies. Put a group of people in a building
and surround them with an army of killers, and you
have the foundation for a pretty entertaining
movie. Such is "Second in Command", the
new Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, about a unit of
American Marines stuck inside the U.S. Embassy in
some fictional Eastern European country surrounded
by an army of faceless "insurgents"
determined to get in and get the country's duly
elected President, currently being safeguarded
within the Embassy's walls.
Directed by Simon Fellows,
who last helmed the Wesley Snipes vehicle "7
Seconds", "Second in Command"
is an above average entry for Van Damme, who is
easily the only quality star in the triumvirate of
has-been Hollywood action stars that have found
refuge in direct-to-video work. Of the three,
there is Steven Seagal, who hasn't stumbled across
a script he didn't want to star in, and Wesley
Snipes, whose career has inexplicably plummeted
despite a string of major
movies. Van Damme has always been choosier than
the other two, resulting in films that have some
measure of quality to them (see "Wake
of Death" and "In
In "Second in
Command", Van Damme plays Sam Keenan, a
hardened soldier sent to re-enforce the U.S.
Embassy when the country becomes unstable. No
sooner does Keenan arrive does the country's
President is chased away from his Palace by
protestors and masked gun-wielding insurgents,
only to take refuge in the U.S. Embassy. (The
film's first 10 minutes or so has a number of
winks and nods to the current insurgency
. Look for them.) The insurgents pursue, and the
siege is on. Joining Keenan within the Embassy
walls are reporter girlfriend Michelle Whitman
(Julie Cox), her cameraman, CIA asshole Frank
Gaines (William Tapley), and your usual group of
roughneck Marines ready to rock and roll and all
that good stuff.
As siege movies go,
"Second in Command" delivers enough on
the action quotient to make it a worthwhile
effort. It's no "The
Nest", but then again, few movies can
match that one's raw and relentless intensity. And
despite the fact that the insurgents are pressed
for time, having to take the Embassy and kill the
President before two impending arrivals -- one by
the President's astray military and the other by
U.S. Marine reinforcements -- the film does fail
to really generate mounting pressure. The time the
film allots itself for the siege is 4 hours, but
it feels more like 4 days. Of course it doesn't
help that the country's military is apparently
composed of one tank, two armored transport
vehicles, and a couple of troop transport trucks.
Seriously, I could knock over this country with a
troop of Girl Scouts in a weekend afternoon.
Surprisingly, the film's
biggest handicap is star Jean-Claude Van Damme,
who seems to be on Prozac for the entire
production. Keenan has almost no energy, seemingly
content to walk to and fro, exerting little
authority or even any enthusiasm. Certainly not
enough for the roughneck Marines to charge
headfirst behind him. Fortunately for "Second
in Command", the supporting cast picks up the
slack. In particular William Tapley, who is
fabulously entertaining as asshole CIA guy Frank
Gaines. Razaaq Adoti is also excellent in the
limited scenes he's in, playing a Marine Gunnery
Sergeant with the right combination of verve and
attitude. Love interest Julie Cox ("Children
of Dune") does okay in the role, but like
Van Damme, she doesn't seem quite into the movie.
Director Simon Fellows
engenders some eye rolling early in the film when
he continually cuts between various shooting
styles in an effort to give the film's early
scenes of mob protests a "documentary"
feel. It doesn't work, and the effect is
disorienting and annoying. Thankfully this need
for "reality" goes away once the siege
begins, although Fellows does continue to shoot
the movie like "NYPD Blue"-lite.
Whatever happened to the good ol days of just
shooting a movie like a movie, instead of trying
to make it look like something it's not? If I want
to see a gritty documentary, I'll rent a
documentary, thank you very much.
"Second in Command"
is, overall, another good entry by Van Damme, even
if the star also happens to be the film's biggest
crutch. There are a lot of signs that "Second
in Command" would have been a better movie
without Van Damme, including some awkward scenes
were the story abruptly slows down to feature the
star in a couple of martial arts sequences.
Needless to say, there shouldn't be any martial
arts in the film at all. Of course I understand
why they put these scenes in. It's a Jean-Claude
Van Damme movie, after all, and you can't call it
that unless there's at least one slow-motion scene
of Van Damme kicking someone in the face.