I love action movies, and this movie packs a bunch of my favorites of the genre. Tsui Hark is an extremely talented director from Hong Kong. I’m not a Van Damme fan, but you got to admit that he knows how to fight, and he’s often unintentionally hilarious. But I think that what attracted me the most to Knock Off is that it’s written by Steven E. De Souza, who wrote my favorite movie of all times, “Commando”, as well as “Die Hard”.
Well, you know what? Having expectations that big ain’t healthy, and nothing’s harder than reviewing such an uneven film. “Knock Off” is alternately the best and the worst action movie ever made, and it ends up being one big uneven mess. To someone who doesn’t know Souza’s work, the script will appear to be the biggest problem. I’m a fan of his, and I also read that what he wanted to do with this film is pack all the action clichés, but give a twist on each of them. It works in the way that most of the scenes have never been seen quite that way, but on the other hand, the film doesn’t make any sense. Van Damme plays a street kid turned jeans designer by a businessman played by Schneider. For some reason I still don’t understand, they get involved in a completely messed up web of triple-crosses that involves the 1997 Hong Kong turnover, Russian terrorists, the CIA, Asian mobsters and explosives hidden in toys! Many interesting ideas can be found in this mess, but it remains incomprehensible. Basically, the film’s biggest flaws is that it packs enough ideas for 10 films, but when you pack them all in 89 minutes, it doesn’t add up.
Still, a mangled plot doesn’t mean a bad film. Like “Mission: Impossible”, this is a film in which there’s real cool shit even though you don’t know why it happens. It’s just too bad, because Tsui Hark is such an awesome director. His “Double Team” (also with Van Damme) was stupid, but at least it was logical in its stupidity and the action was exciting. This time, Hark goes even further and makes a film with more mind blowing visuals than any other Hollywood action film. In fact, it feels like the most revolutionary Asian cinema à la Wong Kar-Wai or Takashi Ishii. The editing is hyperkinetic, and if it’s thrilling for a while, it’s ultimately too much. There are so many characters, weird angles, visual gimmicks and simultaneous events in some scenes that you totally lose track. I still enjoyed that the film was entirely shot in Hong Kong. It gives a nice, exotic feel to the film, and those non-union stuntmen sure are insane! The influence of Jackie Chan is often obvious.
I already said that the cast was interesting, and it more or less pays off. Of course, Van Damme is a lamer actor than ever, and it is so easy to believe that he was coked up while the film was shot! The man’s a mess! He’s still quite an achieved physical performer, and though he’s not at his best, he gets into a bunch of cool fights. Rob Schneider brings well needed humor to the film, and Lela Rochon kicks as much ass as her tits are fun to watch. As for Paul Sorvino, he doesn’t deliver, maybe because his character is so underwritten and uninteresting. “Knock Off” could have been the coolest action flick ever, but too much of Tsui Hark’s high-energy filmmaking is unfocused.