Trying to recall the cinematic canon of Jean-Claude Van Damme is a bit like trying to use IMDB to cure your amnesia. You know the guy did a ton of movies, you just cant remember exactly which ones they were or what they were called -- so you just click around a bunch of vaguely-familiar titles, hoping his name will appear at the top of the cast list of one of them. 'Maximum Risk' is a perfect example, a movie you can sorta-kinda recall, even if you have no idea what it was about or why, a dozen years after it was made, you should still care.
The plot of 'Maximum Risk' is surprisingly convoluted for a Van Damme flick. Here he plays two roles, twin brothers Mikhail Suverov, a Russian thug, and Alain Moreau, a French cop currently working as a detective in the United States. After Mikhail is murdered, Moreau is called in to investigate. Things soon get sticky when Suverov's club-hostess girlfriend Alex Minetti (Natasha Henstridge), who doesn't know Suverov has been murdered, thinks Moreau is Suverov. Then there is the ever-more-bizarre backstory for Mikhail that involves the Russian emigre underworld in Brooklyn, and Alain's growing need to come to terms with his brother's past. Top it off with lots of chases, gunfights and explosions, plus Van Damme's bad accents, and 'Maximum Risk' is the rare Van Damme flick that actually borders on the... existential?
'Maximum Risk' is needlessly twisty for a film that, despite any pretensions, is ultimately just another excuse to stage some big-budget chases and explosions. What's fun now about watching the movie is simply to watch Van Damme be Van Damme in a fairly classy, if utterly derivative, drive-in cop picture. 'Maximum Risk' came at a time when the Muscles from Brussels was at perhaps the height of his Hollywood success, when he could still topline medium-budget flicks that actually played in theaters ('Maximum Risk' even opened at number one at the box office) and attract decent talent behind the camera. The direction by Hong Kong filmmaker Ringo Lam (making his Stateside debut) is only sporadically assured, and the script by Larry Ferguson is muddled by a poorly-structured climax that fails to explore the themes it sets up, but at least it's a tall order above future Van Damme direct-to-video failures such as 'Legionnaire' and 'Derailed.'
Also memorable about 'Maximum Risk' is the presence of Henstridge (aka, the chick from 'Species'), who has emerged over the years as an underrated comedic actress. Granted, she is trotted out here largely for the T&A factor, but she's the most fun thing in the flick and, as always, looks sensational. Also amusing is the requisite Van Damme ass-baring scene, here wrapped around an extended fight in a steam room that's clearly and hilariously only designed for maximum beefcake exposure. It's the "Double Impact" of Van Damme's big-ticket Hollywood dreams colliding with such cheesy Skinemax cliches that makes 'Maximum Risk' as entertaining as it is.
Unfortunately, 'Maximum Risk' is still predictable enough that it's hard to recommend to anyone but diehard Van Damme fans. There are plenty of better catalog action titles out there on Blu-ray, so at best this one should occupy the third spot on your Netflix rental cue. If you absolutely have nothing else to watch and just want a decent time-waster then by all means, enjoy 'Maximum Risk.' But don't expect anything more.
Sony has pulled 'Maximum Risk' from its vaults, and managed to mint a pretty decent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer for this now twelve-year-old, mid-budget film. This is hardly the best catalog remaster I've seen, but it's a bit better than I expected.
The source has held up well, with no major blemishes aside from typical film grain and a few speckles of dirt here and there. Colors are nicely saturated but not too plugged up, though fleshtones can appear a tad smudgy. There's not a ton of visible detail, but it's still a pretty sharp transfer and depth occasionally impresses. Unfortunately, shadow delineation is a weak point -- darker scenes flatten out and lack fine textures. Sony has generally been one of the better studios when it comes to ridding the world of edge enhancement on its high-def titles, though 'Maximum Risk' does have slight if still distracting ringing on high-contrast areas. Finally, the encode is smooth, and there are no major compression artifacts.
Sony has bumped 'Maximum Risk's sound up to Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit), offering English and French options. plus standard Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai. The high-res mix is fine for the age of the material.
Surrounds are fairly active. There are some nicely-done discrete effects during action moments, and I was surprised at how well Robert Folk's score was integrated into the mix. Dynamic range isn't incredibly expansive but low bass digs deep enough to send a few wallops to the subwoofer, while the rest of the spectrum is clean and clear. Dialogue sounds fine if a tad too quiet at times, but I had no major volume balance issues. Solid for a 1996 film, 'Maximum Risk' enjoys a slight bump in quality in TrueHD.
Next to nothing here...
'Maximum Risk' isn't a bad Jean-Claude Van Damme flick (but then we're not talking about a cinematic oeuvre on par with Orson Welles here, are we?) It's an efficient, fairly enjoyable potboiler with decent action. This Blu-ray is the same -- it gets the job done with nice video and audio, but lacks even a singe extra. 'Maximum Risk' is for Van Damme fans only.