Thoughts On: Knock Off (1998)
Unknowingly shipping imitation clothing across the world, Marcus Ray is roped into an explosion of CIA, gangs and terrorism.
Aruba is a Dutch Caribbean Island about 20 miles long and 6 miles wide, 20% of which is a national park, that sits just off the coast of Venezuela – you can even see it on clear days. A significant country in regards to water purification technology with the world’s most renowned female wind surfer and an internationally recognised film festival, Aruba seems like an interesting little place. But, for some reason, its only cinematic exports are a collection of late 90s/early 2000s action pictures like Mercenary For Justice starring Steven Seagal, Hard Cash with Val Kilmer, Control with Ray Liota, Willem Defo and Michelle Rodriguez, Unstoppable featuring Wesley Snipes, The Order with Jean-Claude Van Damme and… of course… JCVD’s 1998 Knock Off. Oh, we can’t forget Hammerhead too – a movie about a half man, half shark. I’m sure it’s a masterpiece. After days of trying to figure out why this is the case, I can confidently say that I’d give my right nut to know what the hell is going on here. These movies aren’t made in Aruba, in fact, the vast majority of Knock Off was shot in Hong Kong – some second unit footage in the Philippines. I assume these movies were produced in Aruba, meaning there’s got to be money flowing through there. But, I honestly have no idea as to what is going on here.
Nonetheless… let’s talk about Knock Off. In short, a 90s action film that was the penultimate effort in JCVD’s 90s career that was soon ended with the second Universal Soldier movie: The Return. Knock Off was then a feature of a six film flop series including the aforementioned Universal Soldier II as well as Double Team, Maximum Risk, The Quest and Sudden Death. Van Damme of course turned this around with the critically acclaimed JCVD in 2008 that lead to reality T.V shows and a whole lot of other mess including The Expendables and more Universal Soldier movies. But, money, flops, reality T.V and careers don’t matter. Is this movie good?
Short answer: not really. There’s a lot to really appreciate about this film though – especially in regard to the direction, choreography and camera work. However, you only appreciate it as you can tell that there is some effort being put into this movie; this isn’t handled as throw away slop. In such, there’s an ambitious use of CGI that has us move through spaces in an interesting manner, but… this ultimately serves as a shoddy example of what we got a year later with the first Matrix movie. Moreover, there’s a lot of flashy camera movement that works wonders in certain actions sequences, but, for the most part, this is inarticulate cinematic language and an abuse of an idea of a moving frame. There’s also a few experimental effects that create a blurred stroboscopic aesthetic that are, again, interesting, but not very well applied.
The other technical redeeming factors of this film are elements of the fight choreography, but, a vast majority of this was cut from the movie. So, what we see here are the downfalls of this movie starting to rub out the positives. In such, the edit ruins many action sequences, which are boring and far too stretched out for the most part, leaving only one that’s pretty spectacular – without spoilers, there’s a lot of people and knives. The vast majority of the other action scenes are poorly constructed with terrible logic and pretty horrific wire work that is hard to overlook.
However, the worst element of Knock Off is the meeting of this script with a few awful casting decisions…
Both Lela Rochon and Rob Schneider suck here – especially Schneider thanks to the script. As you could guess, he’s the bumbling comic relief thing, except there is no relief and there is no comedy to be found anywhere. But, in regards to the script, there’s nothing truly offensive about it – it’s just bland 90s mush that you can see in a million different movies – almost all of which are trying to capture the work done in the 70s by the likes of Bruce Lee.
In all honestly, there’s not too much to get mad at with this movie. You know what it is within twenty seconds and it tries to do a good job about things. The only significant thing that you can take away from this movie is then a lesson in how not to construct the finale of an action thriller.
With subtlety, the most dragging element of Knock Off is the lack of a good antagonist. If there was a big bad guy, a boss of sorts, that was somewhat formidable or interesting – at least present – then the fights would have meant a lot more and the heroes would have been far more compelling (maybe not Schneider). This would have all built towards a conclusion that meant something for the characters and, in turn, the audience. And in securing some sense of pace within the narrative, Knock Off could have been enjoyable, dumb fun. However, it’s the lack of antagonism and momentum that really leaves this film unenjoyable nonsense.
So, all in all, at best Knock Off will be a mediocre movie to anyone not expecting much, and a pretty boring film with a lot of problems to anyone suspecting anything more. Sorry for not being able to find a better film for the World Cinema Series, maybe I’ll find something else soon, but I’ll now leave things with you. Have you seen Knock Off? What are your thoughts?
Oh. And if you know why this is classed as an Aruban movie, please tell me.
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