What To Watch: Fighting Himself in Van Damme’s ‘Double Impact’
Double Impact is a 1991 action film about twin boys who are separated when their parents are killed and then reunite years later to seek revenge.
For a while there, Hollywood had a handful of men who came to define the movie action star, and though that era has slipped mostly into nostalgia, the names are still as prevalent and (double) impactful as ever. Near the top of that list, punching and kicking his way up the ranks, was Jean-Claude Van Damme, a chisel-chinned tank-top wearing cover-boy who busted butts, did splits, and stole hearts. Mostly splits. A lot of splits. I’ve already written about one of his best on-screen performances (which includes a split), but why stop at one Jean-Claude Van Damme when we can have two.
THE STORY: In Double Impact, Van Damme pulls, well, double duty, playing twins Alex and Chad Wagner, who were separated as babies when their parents are killed by a hit squad from an evil underground crime syndicate called the Triad. Raised in different homes and in different environment, Chad and the family former bodyguard Frank Avery (Geoffrey Lewis) now run a martial arts studio while Alex lives in Hong Kong, making a living in the crime world for a thug named Raymond Zhang (Philip Chan), who just happens to be one of the men responsible for killing his parents. Circumstances bring the brothers together again, after twenty-five years, and now with the boys reunited, they decide to get a little payback, though a bit of miscommunication, poor timing, and a clash over a pretty girl named Danielle Wilde (Alonna Shaw) don’t exactly make for the definition of brotherly love at first.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Directed by Sheldon Lettich, Double Impact, came at a peak in the Hollywood martial arts genre popularity, allowing Van Damme to have some fun with his already well-established on-screen persona, playing opposite of himself. Sure, we have to accept that somehow, through the wonder of movie-twin magic, the two men both grew up to be world-class masters in the exact same fighting style, but come on, is one of the Van Damme characters not going to fight in the movie? Would you put two John McClanes in a Die Hard movie and have one of them be a pacifist who stays home watching the Game Show Network? No. No you would not. And so we have two Van Dammes and aside from story lapses and logic-defying action, he is a naturally charming actor with so much physical presence, it’s hard not to find some entertainment in all of this. Van Damme takes to the dual role even though the script and production ultimately let him down with a bevy of seen-it before action tropes. However, it’s still pretty fun, I say with a grin.
A GREAT MOMENT: I especially like this one moment early on about consequences that begins when Chad and his martial arts business partner head to Hong Kong for a new opportunity, only to find Chad’s long lost twin, Alex, who they discover is mixed up in the underground crime scene led by a bad guy named Zhang (Philip Chan). Alex has a girlfriend named Danielle Wilde (Alonna Shaw), who works for Zhang, where the three learn that the Triad has a drug lab nearby, which they destroy with C4 and a massive gunfight. Daniella eventually is found out by her boss and is a target of the Triads, fleeing to Alex’s hideout where Chad rescues her.
Alex is a temperamental fellow and when a phone call is misunderstood (I’ll avoid the spoiler), he waits for his brother and Daniella to arrive back the safehouse, though he’s drunk and angry and looking for a fight. Chad is already bruised up from his conflict with the Triads and when he and Daniella, enter, Alex is tuned up for a bout. Daniella begs Alex to listen to her, desperate to explain that he’s got it wrong, though Alex isn’t hearing any of it, already frustrated by Chad’s incompetence in the mission at the first drug lab. He’s itching for a brawl. Unfortunately, his first swing is at Daniella (boo!), knocking her to the ground, and this is all it takes for Chad to step up. The fight is on. It’s double impact.
Despite some admittedly hollow dialogue, Van Damme shows off some real chops here, keeping the two characters very distinct. It naturally devolves into violence, but that is the whole point, seeing two Van Dammes go at each other, and Lettich manages to keep this pretty convincing all the way through. Alex and Chad are of entirely opposing personalities and the spat is important in establishing their equality in terms of strength and ferocity. While the battle is more than tame in comparison to today’s high-energy, quick-cut fisticuffs, it’s really not about the action per se than the conflict itself. It’s even staged as such, where they meet at the bottom of a rickety stairwell, work their way to the top and both fall through a weakened railing and hit the floor, a visual metaphor for their relationship.
Double Impact is a novelty, a gimmick with a loosely tied story trying to capitalize on Van Damme’s popularity, built on the idea that two are better than one. In truth, it kinda is, the movie probably even more forgettable if this wasn’t the case. For some reason, movies love to see our heroes fight themselves and in 1991 we saw it three times. Aside from Double Impact, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country saw Kirk fight Kirk and Bill & Ted got in the action as well, taking on robot versions of themselves in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Still, if you’re looking for a throwback to the early 90s action B movie fodder, it’s hard to beat a good Van Damme experience. Don’t hesitate. Punches, kick, nudity, violence, Van Damme and more. Watch Double Impact today.