The Order 2001 ***

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Sure, Jean-Claude van Damme can do the splits on a kitchen cabinet, or trace a consignment of exploding pants through Hong Kong (Knock Off); but have you ever wondered what his writing would be like? The Muscles from Brussels admits that he’s had significant drug problems during his career, and his script for Sheldon Lettich’s The Order suggests a star way out of control. JCVD kicks things off by imagining himself as a knight at the First Crusades in 1099, sickened by the violence of the age and having an epiphany that involves looking directly at the camera and widening his eyes as a Pino Donaggio score swells. Jump forward to the present day and JCVD is an Indiana Jones figure in the world of stolen artefacts, complete with a father (Vernon Dubtcheff) who has access to the original knight’s enlightened scrolls. The scrolls are stolen, and Rudy heads for Israel, where The Order considers cultural differences by disguising van Damme in beard and ringlets as a Hassidic Jew and having him shout ‘Oi Vey!’ as the cops chase him around New Jerusalem. If this doesn’t sound bad enough, Charlton Heston turns up looking rather less than fresh and mumbling about knickers before taking an early bath to allow the kickboxing to get into gear. The Order asks far too much of the star, with abrupt chances of tone between murder, comedy, travelogue and philosophising that require the kind of charm that Cary Grant couldn’t make run smoothly. As a ludicrous romp, however, The Order has a few choice moments; as Rudy notes with gravitas, ‘Laughter opens the soul’ and there’s lots of accidental merriment to keep your inner-being well ajar here.

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The Man With The Iron Fists 2012 ***

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Quentin Tarantino and ElI Roth’s influence is obvious in this wonderfully slapdash martial arts epic from 2012, with writer/director RZA uncorking the gore as limbs, arterial blood and heads fly like silly string in feudal China. With various parties chasing hidden gold, the action centres of the brothel of Madame Blossom, with those pursuing the prize including Blacksmith (RZA), Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and expatriate Brit Jack Knife (Russell Crowe). The plotting doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but that’s not a problem when the action is so baroque, with Crowe clearly having fun as a kick-ass Richard Burton and Byron Mann sending himself up to great effect as Silver Lion. The Man With The Iron Fists is a better comedy than a thriller, but it captures the cheerful, anything goes feeling of a Shaw Brothers film to good effect, and even if the film lacks a happy centre, there’s a driving will to entertain that pays off in the end.

The Last Dragon 1985 ***

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A hybrid of martial arts and 80’s disco, Barry Gordy’s The Last Dragon failed to kick-start a new genre, but is worth catching just for the sheer awfulness of the whole venture. Taimak plays Bruce Leroy, an aspiring martial-arts master who falls for Purple Rain’s Vanity, who stars in her own tv show and is something of a proto-video DJ. Neither of them can act their way out of a paper bag, but a gallery of weird and wonderful supporting roles keep Michael Shultz’s The Last Dragon breathing fire. Julius Carry gives a fabulously eccentric performances as the villainous Sho’Nuff, The Shogun of Harlem, William H Macy and Chazz Palminteri have cameos, and Faith Prince plays a wanna-be pop star who resembles Brenda Blethyn as Cindi Lauper. If that’s not enough there’s horrible comic relief from a group of kids who resemble a Bugsy Malone version of The Warriors, risible special effects as Bruce Leroy discovers ‘the glow’ a magical power that enables him to fight Sho’Nuff and the whole enterprise is topped off with an extended promo for Debarge’s Rhythm of the Night. If Rocky can be a stage-show, The Last Dragon is surely in prime position for a Broadway reboot.