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Review: Watch out! 'Knock Off' is a bomb

Web posted on: Tuesday, September 15, 1998 4:08:20 PM

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Short of an army of surgeons sneaking into homes across the country and performing frontal lobotomies on sleeping patients, what could you possibly do to convince the general public that a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie promises to be anything but dumb, dumb, dumb?

Van Damme, as much as any performer this side of Larry "Bud" Melman, is protected by the hard-shell veneer of fully expected awfulness. Even major face-kicking fans take it for granted by now that he can't act, can barely speak English, and is never offered the challenging scripts.

"Forrest Gump," for instance, would be an entirely different movie with Van Damme in the lead role: "Life is like a box of ... um ... WHAM!!" Then Lyndon Johnson hits the deck like a sack full of pork 'n' beans.

I have every reason to believe that this guy could strangle me with his feet, but I'm a film critic, so I suppose I need to bravely get on with the task at hand. Van Damme's latest submission to the Academy is called "Knock Off," and that so obviously calls for a joke I'm not even going to bother.

Clips from "Knock Off"

"Rickshaw Chase"
1.7Mb QuickTime
"Pull us up, Ray"
2.1Mb QuickTime

Our Boy is still in great shape and has evidently come to grudging terms with his (handsomely compensated) lot in life. In this one movie, Van Damme exceeds the entire kick output of every Rockette who's ever lived, laid end-to-end and multiplied by two. I know that doesn't make any sense, but I figure the confusion is a good way to warm up before describing the movie's plot.

Truly an incomprehensible mess

Like I've already said, you're expecting this to be ridiculous, but believe me when I tell you that you have no earthly idea just how ludicrous it is.

I've reviewed more than 250 movies since I started writing for CNN, and this may very well be the most incomprehensible mess I've ever had to sit through. I fell slack-jawed after about two minutes and eventually just had to throw my popcorn under the seat. Try as I might, I couldn't get myself to chew.

The Muscles from Brussels (I far prefer their sprouts, even from an acting standpoint) stars as a bootlegged goods importer who's in endless danger of being mangled, shot, punched, thrown off of moving vehicles, or forced to deliver dialogue at gunpoint. This all takes place in Hong Kong, which, as we all know, is full of things to jump over and be crushed by.

Van Damme's comic relief is Rob Schneider (formerly of "Saturday Night Live" and "Men Behaving Badly"), and if he keeps giving phoned-in performances in junk like this and "Judge Dredd," he may soon find himself billed as "formerly of show business."

What's ostensibly taking place has to do with some microscopic "nano-bombs" that are so small they can be placed in all kinds of bootlegged Hong Kong goods, the exact kind of stuff that (gulp!) Van Damme is marketing.

This all gets "explained" right after the opening, completely unexplained, rickshaw race, during which Van Damme drags Schneider all over the city, knocking the requisite screeching merchants over tables and into tanks full of live eels. This is orchestrated by Tsui Hark, a legendary Hong Kong action director. That status may explain Hark's participation in the film, but certainly not the results.

Optical overkill

You've never seen so many pointlessly contrived optical effects shots in your life. You name it and it's here, including one memorable moment of overkill based around Schneider making a cellular phone call. The shot actually moves inside Schneider's phone, through a bunch of poorly animated circuitry, down a bunch of bustling streets, and into the other guy's receiver.

The tension of this unprecedented undertaking -- you mean to tell me you just talk into that thing and somebody on the other side of town hears you?!! -- is heightened by a bunch of whooshing sound effects. If that's how Hark films a phone call, you can just imagine what he does with a pair of exploding pants.

That's what I said, and you might want to prepare yourself emotionally before I start explaining. The bad guys have loaded up some blue jeans with explosive buttons, doncha see, and Van Damme is wearing a particularly snug pair of the hair-trigger britches himself. Even though you gotta figure Mr. Muscles is sportin' blue steel down there, he still has to jump around and yank the things off before they blow. I haven't wept this freely since James Caan wheezed himself to the hereafter in "Brian's Song."

Oh -- Paul Sorvino is in it, too, looking appropriately embarrassed. A few years ago, a friend of mine hooked me up and I played a couple of games on the "Law & Order" softball team in Central Park. Sorvino was our first baseman; I'm sure he doesn't remember me. Even though he didn't know my name, the first time he glanced in my direction he felt comfortable enough with my stature as a human being to literally snap his fingers and suggest that I make his wife a sandwich. The best thing I can say about "Knock Off" is that it did my heart good to see Sorvino playing a scene with Van Damme.

"Knock Off" is violent, in the same manner that the cartoon "Road Runner" is violent. There's some bad language, which is enhanced by equally bad post-synchronized sound. Frankly, I didn't care for the film. Rated R. 90 minutes.

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