Knock Off

1998, Movie, R, 90 mins


Intensely stylized action is the draw in this loopy picture set against the backdrop of the British hand-over of Hong Kong to China. Marcus Ray (Jean Claude Van Damme), once the king of counterfeit goods, has gone legit. He and sleazy partner Tommy Hendricks (Rob Schneider) are Hong Kong sales reps for V Six blue jeans, a sweet deal that curdles abruptly when Karen Leigh (Lela Rochon), a V Six executive, accuses them of collaborating with counterfeiters to rip off their own product. But the counterfeit blue jeans, sneakers and baby dolls are just a smoke screen for more sinister wrongdoing: The Russian Mafia has developed bombs as tiny as watch batteries, and is concealing them in a variety of black-market goods. That's already more plot than you need to know. Hong Kong action pioneer Tsui Hark is in high form here, tricking out the bare-bones story with disorienting camera angles, trick photography and virtuoso action sequences. That's the upside. The downside is that he also indulges the bizarre brand of dopey humor that HK action buffs have spent years chalking up to different cultural mores and awkward subtitling. Suffice it to say that it plays exceptionally badly in English. Van Damme, whose insecure, less-than-cool character is meant to be a departure from the stone-faced ass-kicking machines he plays in earlier films, looks like a grade-A goofball. That said, it's hard to take your eyes off a movie that delivers such sights as Rochon picking micro-explosives out of her cleavage, a Russian goon using his eyeglass lenses as razors, and Schneider falling on piles of spikey, stinky durian fruit or flogging Van Damme with a live eel while shouting "Move that beautiful ass!" leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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