MRR Review: "Enemies Closer"

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Deep within a forest on the US-Canadian border, two sworn enemies must work together to escape a ruthless drug cartel hell-bent on retrieving a drug shipment which went missing there.
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Rating: R
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: January 24, 2014
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Genre: Action / Thriller

"Enemies Closer" features Jean-Claude Van Damme in the role of Xander, a menacing drug lord. The role represents something of a departure for the Belgian actor best known for his roles as protagonists in action adventure flicks. "Enemies Closer" tells the tale of an ex-Navy Seal turned forest ranger, stationed on the United States side of the Canadian border. Xander and his ruthless cohorts press ranger Henry, played by Tom Everett Scott, into their service to help find and secure a major drug shipment that went missing.

While in the woods, Henry encounters by happenstance a man named Clay, played by Orlando Jones. Clay bears a vendetta against the ranger. Nonetheless, the two men pair up, realizing they represent each other's only hope of escaping the clutches of the brutal members of the drug cartel.

Van Damme delivers as a menacing drug lord. As is the case with all of his movies, Van Damme's physical presence captures a moviegoer's attention. Departing from the formulaic, generally heroic roles that mark the actor's career, Van Damme proves himself capable not only of playing a proverbial "bad guy" but of infusing a character with a simmering sense of evil and malevolence.

Van Damme's primary foil in "Enemies Closer" is Tom Everett Scott's Henry. Scott is known in Hollywood for his portrayal of more than a few cinematic "nice guys." Although the character of Henry generally falls within this category and probably did not represent a significant acting stretch for Scott, Henry does have an edge. The sharpness is apparent not only in the character's interaction with the members of the drug cartel who essentially kidnap the seemingly mild-mannered forest ranger but in his interaction with Clay, who wronged him in the past.

The action and thriller genres do represent something more of a departure for Scott. Perhaps moviegoers will hearken back to the first time they saw Tobey Maguire as Superman. Although new to these genres, Scott fits. He puts in a consistently believable performance as something of an action hero in his various machinations designed to escape the clutches of the drug cartel.

Orlando Jones, as Clay, takes yet another step down the path and away from comedies. With his major career break on Fox's MADtv, Jones ran the risk of being typecast in a narrow line of comedic films. Over time, he has expanded into more dramatic roles, including the tough, to set the stage for his portrayal of Clay in "Enemies Closer." As is the case with Henry, Clay must overcome his animosity and pair up with a man in order to save his life and win his freedom. Even when the stakes are this high, setting aside deeply negative feelings cannot be done with a wave of the hand, if a character is to be believed.

Kris Van Damme, Jean-Claude's son, appears in "Enemies Closer," having performed alongside his father is several prior projects. As Francois, a member of the drug cartel, the younger Van Damme is something of a chip of the older actor's block. He possesses a physical presence similar to that of his father and plays a believable tough in this film.

"Enemies Closer" marks the third time that director Peter Hyams has collaborated with Van Damme in a film. Hyams is an old hand in the industry, making his directorial debut in 1974. A mark of a Hyams film is visually striking photography. He directed the sequel to Stanley Kubrick's iconic "2001: A Space Odyssey." As he has done in other films he directed, Hyams personally undertook the cinematography for "Enemies Closer." The result is a well-presented film in which the visuals admirably heighten the suspense as well as the darker aspects of the screenplay.

The screenplay, crafted by Eric Bromberg and James Bromberg, is not a motion picture revelation. The screenplay follows the route of the typical silver screen thriller, and for good reason. The formula works. The screenwriters did not have to concoct something highly unique to present audiences with an interesting, exciting and suspenseful jaunt.

"Enemies Closer" lives up to its title. In this case, a park ranger and a man who is something of a nemesis must hold each other close, as enemies sometimes must do, in order to survive. The film works not only because of the reliable, solid screenplay and experienced directorial hand. The movie excels because of the work of actors who excite an audience but also glean the understanding and even the empathy of moviegoers throughout the film.

Rating: 3 out of 5