Tsui Hark is one of the legendary director/producers of Hong Kong cinema, having helmed such classics as "Peking Opera Blues" and the "Once Upon a Time in China" series, and been a producer on "A Chinese Ghost Story", "The Killer", and "A Better Tomorrow" (he also has a cameo in the latter as one of the judges at the audition in the beginning of the film). He also has the dubious distinction of being the third victim of the Jean-Claude Van Damme curse against Amercianized Hong Kong directors, after John Woo ("Hard Target") and Ringo Lam ("Maximum Risk").
Jean-Claude Van Damme Jack-Paul Quinn, is your typical no-nonsense-kick-ass CIA anti-terrorist operative, who makes outrunning the Red Army in a dump truck look like a walk in the park. After retiring from the CIA, Quinn spends his days poolside at his lavish house with his pregnant wife (movie cliché: if a woman is pregnant in a movie, she will give birth before the movie is over). However, an old nemesis of Quinn's, Stavros (Mickey Rourke), has resurfaced and Quinn receives orders to stop Stavros and bring him back alive (though a couple of sentences later, his superior tells him that Stavros must be killed). Leaving his pregnant wife (Natacha Lindinger), Quinn goes to Antwerp, hooks up with a colorfully flamboyant arms dealer, Yaz (Dennis Rodman, the ballplayer), with a closet full of the latest fully-automatic toys for big boys. With his assembled delta-force, including a sharpshooter that can 'shoot the deeck off a hummingbird', an ambush is set for Stavros at a local amusement park. Stavros arrives, and greets his girlfriend... and his son. Quinn, being the family-values-espousing-right-wing hero, finds himself unable to shoot Stavros with his son. This moment of hesitation is costly, and Quinn's entire team is killed off in a shoot-out with Stavros' men. Quinn chases Stavros into a nearby hospital, and in an action sequence plagiarized from John Woo's "Hard Boiled", they battle it out amid a nursery full of newborn babies. Quinn is knocked out cold and Stavros escapes.
When Quinn comes to, he finds himself in 'The Colony', a "Prisoner"-esque prison where 'those who are too valuable to kill' and 'too dangerous to set free' use their special skills as consultants to governments around the world as 'the last line of defense against global terrorism'. Using virtual reality and mouseless-graphical-user-interfaces, they solve all the world's bombings, hijackings, and terrorist attacks. The only problem is that no one can ever leave The Colony. Not long after his arrival, Quinn finds evidence that his wife is being targeted by Stavros, and so Quinn hatches an elaborate escape plan. Once out of The Colony, he hooks up with Yaz and together, they go to roam to rescue Quinn's wife and beat Stavros at his own game.
"Double Team" was Tsui Hark's North American directorial debut, and he was so thrilled with the outcome, that he wanted his name taken off the picture. Yes, it's a noisy, nonsensical, and cringe-worthy comic book story that substitutes posturing and furrowed brows for real emotions. Yes, I shook my head when Yaz had a contrived sudden-change-of-heart and decided to help Quinn in his quest to kick some Stavro-butt. Yes, I had never before seen such blatant product placement as the use of Coke machines by Quinn and company to block the blast of a giant explosion. Yes, this movie is full of bizarre elements, such as a group of monks that surf the Internet (probably pilfered from an IBM advertisement) and a climactic showdown in a Roman coliseum featuring a tiger, land mines, and a baby.
But it's not a total write-off. Tsui Hark's eye for visual flair and engaging action sequences save this film from the trash bin. Many of the dynamic camera techniques that he used in his martial arts films are used in DT to capture Van Damme's skill in martial arts (which is more than I can say about his acting) and put you in the middle of the frenzied action. The shoot-outs are well-conceived, using an array of camera tricks and stunt work to visualize the many elaborate ways a gun can be fired.
If you are a devoted follower of Hong Kong action cinema, "Double Team" is as good quality as the average Hong Kong action movie, only with a bigger budget and an irreverent attitude. It's not a very intelligent movie, certainly not even on the level of John Woo on a bad day, but it is tolerable action fare-- while there may be little substance in the story, there's an overabundance of style to be enjoyed.