It isn't exactly a secret that Jean-Claude Van Damme may be the worst actor to ever walk this planet. But anyone complaining about the performances in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie is missing the entire point of watching a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Van Damme's appeal isn't in his acting chops, but his sheer SWAGGER. This is a man who, between his Belgian accent and seeming inability to take his dialogue seriously, projects nothing but the utmost confidence in what he's going to do at any given moment. For example, in The Order, after being given a somewhat graphic description of just what the Russian Mafia would do to him if they ever caught wind of what he was up to, Van Damme simply utters "Wow!" Now, I think this is supposed to be a statement of genuine amazement, but Van Damme's execution of it gives away what he's really thinking during the scene: "Uh-huh, yeah. I'm not impressed. When they come after me, I'm going to kick THEIR asses too." He seems almost bored!
In The Order, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Rudy. I don't think I have to say that Rudy is just basically a clone of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Rudy is a smuggler, and when we first meet him, he's on the verge of one of those final, pre-about face jobs that get criminals like him into deep shit in the movies. He's in Odessa, in Ukraine, and he breaks and enters into a nice museum to steal a very pretty egg which is worth a fortune. Next day, he's in New York City, where he drops into one of the local museums to visit his curator pop. Dad has recently stumbled into some lost scrolls detailing the religion created by a crusader who was disillusioned by the fact that he was killing in the name of a peaceful god that both his enemies and friends believed in. Well, the Russian Mafia apparently has some of interest in religious archeology, because when Dad flies to Israel, he gets kidnapped during a phone call with Rudy. For Van Damme - and the audience - it's ass-kicking time!
The Order is an action movie, plain and simple. There are a few interesting twists in it to give it a little bit of color, but you only need to remember one thing to keep up with it: Rudy is trying to rescue his father. That's it. Remember that, and you'll be perfectly capable of leaning back and grinning stupidly while Jean-Claude Van Damme flies into action. There a Marion Ravenwood wannabe in The Order who tags along too, and also a cool little cameo from Charlton Heston. (The Order was made back in 2001. The World Trade Center towers are in it too.) Of course, there's something really big which also has to get uncovered. Blah blah blah, fulfill the ancient prophecy, yada yada yada, World War III will start.
You can tell very easily that The Order was made strictly to please action fans. You can tell very early on that this movie has no illusions about either what it is, what it wants to be, or what anyone will ever see it as. Very early on in the movie, I could figure that out because the script makes a reference to Muslims making a holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem (where The Order takes place) during Ramadan. If this is a tenant of Islam, it isn't one that I ever heard of, and I followed that religion for three years. The characters all speak in various cliches and one-liners, and Rudy has a greeting ritual with his father which is the kind usually reserved for close friends who have known each other forever. The movie is so rich with wonderful little action standards that I'm shocked the ending - which involves a bomb - didn't resort to using the old "which wire? The red one or the blue one?" routine.
I said it once, I've said it a million times: The Matrix ruined action movies. The damn Wachowski Brothers and their damn bullet time slow motion. Director Sheldon Lettich resorts to using slow motion shots at several points in The Order, apparently not understanding the great appeal of martial arts movies: Martial arts movies are awesome precisely because we known the stars aren't faking it. Van Damme, in his early career, was a bodybuilder and a professional kickboxer. He is also trained in ballet and karate. I'm not sure if he leaves his more dangerous, high-level stunts to trained professionals, but he's clearly not faking the martial arts stuff, and some of the things he does in fight sequences are truly incredible. Although Lettich is pretty reserved in his use of slow motion, the particular spots he chooses to use it are questionable, and in any case, Van Damme isn't a guy who requires the use of it at all.
With an 89-minute running time, The Order excels at keeping the action going. Five minutes in, there's an extended fight when Van Damme has to break into the museum and steal the egg. Right after landing in Jerusalem, he takes Charlton Heston on a high-intensity car chase against the traffic, all the while with Heston complaining about the shape of his classic car. In the climax, one of the main bad guys does the other one in because their main objectives clashed with each other. (Who knew?) There's a cool foot chase with Van Damme posing as a Rabbi. (!) The shots of Jerusalem are a sight to behold as well, which cinematography buffs will appreciate.
Yeah, the main plot of The Order revolves around religion, but this is an action movie. Don't expect religion in any part of it - unless there's something I've missed (and there may very well be), my aforementioned comment about the script and its line about Muslims going to Jerusalem for Ramadan pretty much sums up The Order's attitude toward religion. Let's face it - if you're watching a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and bitching about religious inaccuracy or misrepresentation, Van Damme screwed up somewhere. The good news is that while The Order is shallow and dumb - hence my low rating - that is in no way the fault of Van Damme, who made this thing because he's as fun to watch in a fight as ever.