Tuesday, March 23, 2010

'The Order' isn't one you need to order

The Order (aka "Jihad Warrior") (2001)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sofia Milos, Sasson Gabai, Vernon Dobtcheff, Ben Cross Brian Thompson and Charlton Heston
Director: Sheldon Lettich
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

An internationally infamous art thief (Van Damme) must team up with an Israeli cop (Milos)--who is presumably infamous for always wearing her uniform buttoned down to the middle of her chest--to rescue his father from the clutches of a crazed religious leader (Thompson) who is bent on bringing about Armageddon.

While watching this film, be as excited as Van Damme and Milos look to be in the picture above. The film has a paper-thin plot with most of the characters being driven by weak motivations (or by nothing but plot dictates and Stupid Character Syndrom), and all the action and fight scenes being ineptly photographed, badly edited and perhaps even under-rehearsed.

The paper-thin plot and weak characters can be forgiven, I suppose, but the inept handling of the fight scenes cannot. With the exception a fight during the heist that opens the film, every fight has a cheap and amateurish feel to it, with too many cuts and close-ups of the action to really seeing what's going on and entirely too much use of slow-motion of Van Damme jumping or kicking. It screams either of an attempt to cover of badly rehearsed fights or of a director and cinematographer who didn't know how to film martial arts action. The many chase scenes are handled pretty well--with the exception of a motorcycle sequence that is filmed and edited so badly that it positively screams, "Look! Stunt Double driving instead of Van Damme!" This ineptitude carries through straight to the big final battle between Van Damme and the religious crazy, bringing the film to a close on a low note that is only made worse at a misfired attempt at a humorous denouement.

For all the films faults, the actors do as good a job as can be expected with the material they are working with. Van Damme is charming and funny while Sofia Milos wears that half-unbuttoned police uniform like few others have ever worn half-unbuttoned police uniforms before. Charlton Heston's extended cameo is badly written, but he does a good job with it and the same is true of supporting cast members Ben Cross and Brian Thompson. Their parts are horribly written, but they are appropriately sinister.

The backdrop of Jerusalem is also interesting, especially the way the film demonstrates during a foot chase how wildly different communities that are hostile to each other exist in very tight quarters, with Van Damme fleeing from secular police to the protection of Hasedic Jews and then finds himself being stared down by hostile Muslims, all over the space of just a few minutes.

That said, the film is a letdown in all areas that really matter when we are sitting down to watch a Jean Claude Van Damme film. It ranks among his weakest efforts to date.

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