Wednesday, August 27, 2014


The Order vs The Order


Institutions always want to put conflicts in terms of order and chaos. Control is easier to maintain and to justify if you define life that way, drawing a clear divide between the benevolent forces of order and the insidious agents of chaos. This sort of binary conflict is rife throughout the language that defines our world. Dungeons and Dragons, for example. I’m sure there are others. But it seems to me that more often than not, it is systems of order which bring chaos, by coming into conflict with each other. Order seeks to impose control by its very definition, and different systems of control are inevitably and resolutely in competition with each other. History has given us plenty of examples of such clashes; the rigid dogmatism of the Catholic Church against the structured pragmatism of the scientific method. The systematic economic mechanics of Capitalism against the humanist redistribution of Socialism. The machiavellian machinations of big business against the pugnacious discipline of organized labor. The goofy crappiness of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s THE ORDER (2001) against the gloomy crappiness of Heath Ledger’s THE ORDER (2003).

Let’s pick one of those conflicts at random to explore a little further.

The Order (2001)
Dir. Sheldon Lettich
Written by Jean-Claude Van Damme, Les Weldon
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Charlton Heston (!?!), Sophia Milos, Brian Thompson, Ben Cross

First of all, I know what you’re thinking. “Wouldn’t it have been great if Van Damme had been in this and then also in Coline Serreau’s CHAOS that same year?!” I know, I know, maybe he’d have been a little out of place in a movie Stephen Holden called a, "gripping feminist fable with a savage comic edge." But at least he could have gotten on-board with 2005’s Statham/Snipes debacle CHAOS. Or 2005’s other CHAOS, the notorious LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT ripoff from “Demon” Dave DeFalco. Or I guess even the Japanese Hideo Nakata CHAOS from 2000. Or the 2008 Herman Yau Hong Kong CHAOS. Or if he wanted to get creative, he could have Timecop’d himself back to 1984 and starred in the Donatello-award winning Italian drama KAOS. I guess he was already in BREAKIN’ in ‘84, and who can forget his memorable turn as “Gay Karate Man” in MONACO FOREVER that same year, so I dunno, might not want to mess with the space time continuum there, might not be worth it to lose those. But still.

Anyway, there’s obviously plenty of movies about chaos, he should get on one. That’s my point. But in 2001, Van Damme’s mind was on Order, so he starred in this movie THE ORDER.

In this THE ORDER, Van Damme plays Rudy "Can't Fail" Cafmeyer, one of those suave high-class historical artifact heisters that you always hear about in movies but never in real life for some reason. In the first scene, he liberates a Faberge egg from some kind of private museum with lasers and repelling and so on. It all seemed kinda familiar for some reason, until I realized that they use the same footage for a similar art heist scene at the start of Seagal’s TODAY YOU DIE. That ninja-clad stunt double got to play both Van Damme and Seagal in the same scene!

Problem is, his swashbuckling ninja-impersonating artifact-thieving ways are leading to a rift with his studious academic father Ozzie, who gets himself kidnapped by a mysterious Israeli religious sect after he discovers their sacred document.

Oh right, I should probably also mention this one begins hundred of years ago during the Crusades, when a guru-bearded Crusader (also Van Damme) decides to become the Messiah of a new religion and write up some sacred scrolls, only one of which will be important here. The movie considers this an extremely honorable goal, and feels the world writ large is poorer for not having the scrolls around anymore. See, right before his death, that notorious prankster Messiah Van Damme buried the most important scroll in the desert somewhere, and since then his followers have only had the other, less important scrolls to follow, compromising his true goal of a religion which doesn’t suck. It’s like how the studio fired Richard Stanley right at the start of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, and then no one knew what to do and they just made it up as they went along and somewhere along the way it turned into this bizarre and disheartening clusterfuck of people trying to throw their weight around, the true meaning of what they were originally trying to do lost in a churning sea of egotism and bad blood. Or like Christianity. You know, one of those things that would have totally been great, if only dot dot dot.

No Van Damme, don't make a joke about the Holy Land now! ... it's right behind you!

The point is, Messiah Van Damme’s religion gets corrupted because he buried the one god damn important scroll, so that asshole Brian Thompson (Alien Bounty Hunter from X-Files, Night Slasher from COBRA, tough-looking mutha from everything else) takes over and turns the religion into some kind of violent car-bombing conspiracy-having nuclear-bomb-threatening cult. For some reason he wants to destroy the Holy Land, and it’s up to Van Damme (modern day, non-Messiah version) to stop him.

OK, got all that? Flash back to modern times. Van Damme’s gotta go to the Holy land to save his father from the kidnappers, who want to utilize the power of the important scroll for [an important reason, I’m sure]. Who’s there to meet him at the airport but, oh my god, how can this be happening, why it’s Hollywood’s own Charleton Heston (Dying Chimpanzee, PLANET OF THE APES 2001). Chuck repeats what he already told us in the opening narration, carries Van Damme’s luggage, and then dies. It would be the third-to-last time he would appear on the silver screen, and the second was BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, not exactly his finest work in my opinion. Oh well, at least he never had to voice a Transformer.  

Listen sonny, I was in WAYNE'S WORLD II so I don't want to hear any of your lip.

With Heston out of the way, Van Damme is free to get involved in a convoluted conspiracy plot, outwit some corrupt local police officers (plus get freaky with a sexy one), run afoul of a bunch of Serbians, almost get into a fight with this big ass dude but then for some reason never actually go through with it, have a couple low-impact car chases, and, most memorably, get involved in an extended Jerusalem foot chase while dressed as a Rabbi (payot and all!).

To its credit, this movie is less serious and more fun than you might imagine a movie about a murderous sect in the Holy Land which features Van Damme as the Messiah might be. It’s one of the lighter Van Damme characters I’ve seen, he’s constantly quipping and joking around and seeming to enjoy himself. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is exactly as chintzy as you would expect from a 2001 DTV production. Despite the exotic location work, most of the camerawork looks like crap, there’s some dodgy CGI, sitcom lighting, crappy acting, and of course it goes without saying on this kind of thing that the plot leaves a few notable questions lingering, one of which being, “what the hell?” I guess that’s OK, but man, remember when Van Damme used to be in movies that looked like, you know, real movies? I mean, NOWHERE TO RUN isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but at least it had decent lighting and told a complete story. THE ORDER has some smiles in it, but you would never confuse it for a movie that was shown in theaters.

This is totally how FOOTNOTE should have ended.

Fortunately, Van Damme has seemingly picked himself up from his early millennial low point, getting involved in some better and more ambitious pictures like JVCD and the two DTV UNIVERSAL SOLDIER sequels directed by John Hyams. That’s good, because while THE ORDER isn’t a complete wasteland of entertainment, it’s not nearly competent enough to really be worth your time, particularly in the absence of him also doing a sequel called THE CHAOS. I was banking on the entertainment value of seeing ol’ Chuck Heston in a Van Damme DTV LAST CRUSADE knockoff* but that’s kinda a wash, he’s not really around long enough to leave an impression. I’m more amenable to the Rabbi disguise, which is a funny idea and also coincides with the movie’s only decent action sequence. It’s probably the only part that merits the attention of anyone but the most die-hard Van Damme fans, although in fairness if you make it to the end you’ll get to see Van Damme in a sword fight, something of a rarity.

Product was as described, would The Order again.

One minor aspect I appreciate: despite the Jerusalem setting and religious cults and mystical scrolls, there’s no indication of anything genuinely supernatural anywhere in the movie. In fact, the lost scroll doesn’t have some kind of magic incantation in it; instead, it advises Messiah Van Damme’s followers to be a little nicer to people. I think we can all stand to learn a little something about that, be it from an ancient scroll or a JCVDDTV flick.

* No, not that KNOCKOFF with the exploding jeans.


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