|by Brian Orndorf
John Candy goes “Delirious” and we all suffer, while Jean-Claude Van Damme tries acting for a change in “Double Impact.”
Nutshell: Jack Gable (John Candy) is a frustrated soap opera writer dealing with two-faced bosses who want to write out the star of the show, and his crush, Laura (Emma Samms). Hit with a head injury and a car accident, Jack awakens to find himself inside his own television show, facing colorful characters and murderous plans he’s been writing furiously about for years. At first overwhelmed, Jack soon develops a curious command over this world via his typewriter, where the creative mastermind is permitted a mysterious chance to script his own fate.
1991: I could hardly consider John Candy as a man with incredible taste in screenplays, but there was something critically off about “Delirious” that would knock his tattered career out of alignment, leading to his unfortunate death a few years later on the set of his most humiliating picture, 1994’s “Wagons East.”
Being a Candy fan, the theatrical debut of “Delirious” wasn’t met with disdain, but hope. After “Only the Lonely” proved the actor could bring out a softer side to his screen personality and still retain a robust sense of humor, I was looking forward to another flex of this thespian muscle. Granted, “Delirious” was marketed appropriately as a shrill farce, but I remained interested in observing Candy move to the next stage of his career.
“Delirious” wasn’t exactly released by MGM in August of 1991, it was dumped along the side of the road, programmed as a late summer diversion that could run a few box office laps on the strength of Candy’s marquee value. Heck, even the poster for the picture screamed defeat.
Sitting down with my giggle bib tied tight, I spent most of my time with “Delirious” annoyed and itching to leave. It was a dreadful picture, cruelly unfunny and unreasonably hyperactive, endeavoring to revive a certain farcical timing that was passé, using the strident talents of the supporting cast to make a pleasing commotion while Candy provided the essential befuddled reactions. The movie was a crushing disappointment. Not that the likes of “Speed Zone” and “The Great Outdoors” were any better, but the momentum Candy built with “Only the Lonely” was effectively shut down by “Delirious.” It wasn’t the end of the funny man’s career, but it sounded a mighty warning siren.
2011: “Delirious” is a terrible movie but certainly not a lazy one. Director Tom Mankiewicz (who sadly passed away in 2010) seeks a tone of absurdity that’s temptingly brisk, aiming for classic Hollywood timing with this broad effort. It’s finger-snap stuff that requires an astoundingly charismatic cast to click, leaving the picture at a serious disadvantage with a dreary supporting roster that includes Mariel Hemingway (who gave this woman keys to the comedy kingdom?), Samms, and Charles Rocket. At least there’s Candy to enjoy, who really digs into the work, serving up eye bulges and squeaky line readings to compensate for the script’s monumental shortcomings.
“Delirious” is a film that looks like it simply slipped away from its director. Mankiewicz was a Hollywood legend, a tremendous raconteur (pop in those “Superman” extra features for fantastic production stories), and the man responsible for one of my top guilty pleasures, the 1987 comedy “Dragnet.” It’s troubling to watch him flounder so extensively here with stillborn material, yet there’s a sweaty attempt to attain a comedic fever pitch that’s almost interesting. Almost. The tools include wild physical comedy, cartoon sound effects, and the persistent soap opera lampoon material, which eats up most of the joke opportunities. This satiric target was worn out in 1991 (“Soapdish” covered the same ground), yet retains a mild nostalgic pinch in 2011, a year that finds the daytime soap industry in ruins. Watching a stunned Jack work his typewriter magic around his alien surroundings provides some voltage, but whatever subtlety was present in script form is scraped away in the finished picture.
It appears as though Mankiewicz wanted to conduct his own triumphant slapstick symphony with “Delirious.” He just brought the wrong sheet music to share with his cast.
Points are awarded here for the use of Prince’s “Delirious” during the bizarre opening title sequence (featuring Jack frantically waiting inside his apartment for a cable repairman), but there’s just so little here that’s appealing. It’s a thin concept with a nasty case of the unfunnies. Candy’s incessant mugging just isn’t enough to inject some verve into this misfire. “Delirious” remains as tedious as it was in 1991, although now there’s a touch of sadness to the proceedings knowing that this would be the last film Mankiewicz would direct. He deserved another shot.
Nutshell: Separated as infants, identical twins Chad and Alex (Jean-Claude Van Damme) were raised worlds apart. When the crooks that killed their father return to orchestrate a substantial criminal enterprise, Chad’s guardian, Frank (Geoffrey Lewis), decides to reunite the pair after 25 years of isolation. While Californian Chad and Hong Kong bootlegger Alex have their differences, the butt-kickin’ boys must team up to topple baddies and reclaim what’s rightfully theirs.
1991: While never greeted with a rapturous response befitting a world-class thespian, Jean-Claude Van Damme made a welcome impression performing in low-budget actioners that didn’t tax his English language skills, focused primarily on his feats of strength and flexibility. He was a built guy with a thick accent and a wide-open face that could register fear and fury (not to mention a stupendous command of plausible confusion), and his early work benefited from that simplicity.
I suppose it began with “Kickboxer,” a 1989 martial arts scrapper that brought Van Damme to my doorstep. It was a treat to see such a fresh face on the action scene, and his releases, while undeniably crude, were perfectly suited to the actor’s limited abilities. The recipe was simple: Grunts, splits, and kicks. Sprinkle in some sentimentality and a nondescript baddie, and there was a successful Van Damme production. 1989 to 1991 were the prime years of development, highlighting the bruiser building a name for himself with minor yet profitable studio work, culminating with “Double Impact,” which was the first Van Damme vehicle to be blessed with serious studio faith. Columbia Pictures gave Van Damme a gimmick and something of a budget, planting the movie with a late-summer release date to see if the growing fanbase would turn out en masse for the Muscles from Brussels.
I suppose I was the ideal demographic for “Double Impact,” happily devouring its loopy attitude and marketing promise of “Twice the Van Damage.” It was a silly picture, but in a perfectly escapist way. Playing up the bulky star’s limited charisma and profound bendy parts, the movie nudged the head-bumped one into more of a blockbuster arena, though the film retained its dingy J.V. look, filling out the cast with an assortment of C-list actors, even marking the acting debut of female weight lifter Cory Everson, gifted the, but of course, lesbonic enforcer role. It was that type of weirdness that impressed me as a kid, although the Brichives suggest there was some fatigue with the Van Damme formula.
2011: Van Damme takes co-producing, co-story, co-writing, and starring credits in “Double Impact.” No wonder the film is determined to showcase his pouty sex appeal and face-smashing action prowess. If somebody else had control of the picture, I doubt we would witness shots like this.
Let’s see Steven Seagal try that one. In fact, let’s see Steven Seagal bend over and tie his shoes these days.
One has to approach “Double Impact” with a sense of humor. Clearly Van Damme was interested in designing a slightly doofy creation, permitting the strongman a chance to stretch as an actor, attempting to play two roles of conflicting personalities. It helps to dress Chad up as a DayGlo-drenched Southern California dandy, while the heavily moussed Alex enjoys chomping on cigars and hulking out over the littlest details. Nevertheless, the effort is appreciated, keeping the feature modestly entertaining, although the picture is practically “Godfather: Part II” in terms of Van Damme’s lackluster filmography.
Director Sheldon Lettich (who would go on to work with Van Damme on numerous occasions) runs a relatively tight ship, generously serving up the action beats, spreading the chaos all over sweltering Hong Kong locations. There’s also a pronounced sense of humor that helps to loosen the endeavor up, nudged along by Van Damme’s eagerness to cartoonishly divide Chad and Alex’s personalities, while rubbery Geoffrey Lewis finds himself refereeing the picture in the straight man role. Mercifully, “Double Impact” doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a slightly aware action festival, establishing the basics without a fuss.
Oh, there are plenty of problems to distract from the fist-first merriment. At 105 minutes, the picture feels endless, needlessly caught up in its ridiculous plot, as though anyone is actually keeping track of the details. There’s also an uncomfortable mid-movie scene that finds Alex fighting visions of Chad poking his girlfriend (Alonna Shaw), trashing his home in a drunken stupor, visualizing a softcore porn moment that gives the target demographic exactly what they paid for: boobs. Well, twice the Van Damage too, but primarily boobs. There are a few indulgent, legitimately awful scenes that keep the feature from becoming delightful junk food, most hastily arranged to beef up Van Damme’s screentime.
“Double Impact” is easily digestible and provides perhaps the most accurate snapshot of Van Damme’s brief screen dominance. Admittedly, he’s fun to watch, especially when tragically lost in delusions of thespian might. Unlike his borderline immobile contemporaries, Van Damme carried a weird screen energy that’s exploited splendidly here. He was never great with drama, lousy with the English language, but put the man in tight pants and surround him with Asian stuntmen, and there’s pure joy to be had.
Coming next week…
Irish music finds some soul.
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originally posted: 08/15/11 12:00:13