Moore Not Less - The Quest
Van Damme. The Muscles from Brussels. Like Steven Seagal, Van Damme was
once a medium sized cheese in the Hollywood firmament before the
inevitable straight-to-DVD years arrived. 1996's The Quest was Van
Damme's directorial debut but his star was already slightly on the wane
by now. Timecop was a big hit but it was all downhill from there.
like Kickboxer (predictable eighties martial arts nonsense but
enjoyable enough as far as predictable eighties martial arts nonsense
goes) had put Van Damme on the map but, rather like Seagal, JCVD always
took himself slightly more seriously than anyone else did and concieved
The Quest as a historical martial arts epic that he would direct, star
in, and have a story credit. What we have here is a vanity project.
autobiography is at great pains to avoid hanging any dirty underwear on
the line. 'When I have nothing nice to say about a person,' writes
Moore. 'I'd rather not say anything at all.' He makes an exception in
the case of Van Damme and The Quest's producer Moshe Diamant. Rog has
no time whatsoever for either of them in his book and roasts The Quest
for being an amateurish chaotic production.
complaints include being driven to a remote location wedged in the back
of a tiny car and a lack of preparation throughout on the part of the
producer. At one point there was apparently a mutiny by the crew when
Diamant tried to get them to work all night with no overtime pay. Roger
cites second-unit direcor Peter MacDonald as the man who managed to get
the film finished amidst this incompetence.
also claims that Van Damme stiffed him on a promise to put his name
above the title on the poster. When Roger saw the poster, VAN DAMME was
emblazoned above but 'Roger Moore' was in tiny text below the title!
film begins in the present day with an old man (Van Damme in some hokey
old-age make-up) entering a bar and beating up some yobbos who try to
rob the place. The barman asks him where he learned to fight like that.
"It was a long time ago..." comes the reply. I sense a flashback is on
We go back to 1925 New
York where Van Damme's character Christopher Dubois is a clown. Quite
literally. He looks like Roger at the end of Octopussy. Dubois is the
leader of a gang of street urchin orphan children who pickpocket and
steal. Anyway, Dubois and the kids end up choring some gangster money
and atrracting the attention of the police so Dubois has to stowaway on
a boat. He promises he'll be back.
ship he's on is full of gun smugglers and after being forced to become
a slave they decide to do away with him until the ship is raided by a
gang of mercenary pirates led by an old cad named Dobbs. Lord Edgar
Dobbs (Sir Rog). Dobbs agrees to help Dubois get home but ends up
selling him to slave traders in Siam where he becomes trained in Muay
To cut a long story short,
Dubois ends up competing in a secret international martial arts
tournament in the "Lost City" and Dobbs agrees to help finance his
participation. Joining them are Dobbs' assistant Smythe (Jack McGee)
and reporter Carrie Newton (Janet Gunn). Dobbs perhaps feels somewhat
guilty about the way he treated Dubois - plus he wants to steal the
Golden Dragon prize for his pension fund.
Ben-Hur of martial arts films claimed Jean-Claude Van Damme when The
Quest was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. That may have been a
trifle optimistic. The Quest feels like a rehash of Van Damme's earlier
Bloodsports film and is, as far as these martial arts films go, quite
dreary in places with far too much exposition. The first part of the
film with Jean-Claude as a street mime may stretch your patience. It
stretched mine anyway.
The film is
pretentious with lingering shots of the background scenary and Van
Damme taking it all far too seriously. He prays to Buddha statues and
seems to think he is in some sort of spiritual masterpiece. Van Damme's
one-note performance is not a great boost for the film.
a long wait to get to the actual martial arts section of the film and
the fight scenes are frequently not even that interesting. Van Damme
seems far too reliant on slow-motion and his opponents (from a range of
countries with a range of styles) are not terribly exciting. Look at
the opponents Bruce Lee has in the full end sequence of (the sadly
uncompleted) Game of Death. Hapkidoist Ji Han Jae, a nunchaku duel with
Dan Insosanto, the freeform giant Kareem Abdul Jabbar. That's how this
type of thing is supposed to be done.
of Sir Roger? Well, I'd say Roger is the best thing in the film and
gives The Quest a touch of class it probably doesn't deserve. Rog,
scraggly beard and all, is well cast as the suave bounder Dobbs. He has
a half decent acting moment near the end when he apologises to Dubois
and reflects that all his toil, service and crookery has come to nowt.
There would be no awards winging their way to Roger's mantlepiece but
he's trying his best and that's at least admirable with the knowledge
that he loathed both Van Damme and and the producer.
cast are largely nondescript but the always decent James Remar is fair
enough as an American boxing champion. Jack McGee is ok as Dobbs'
sidekick. According to Roger's memoirs, he liked McGee a lot and was
amused by the way he would purposely irritate Van Damme by burping
The Quest is
forgettable on the whole and heavily damaged by the laughable attempts
by Van Damme to inject some drama into proceedings. You'll have much
more fun with the cheaper and more brazenly and openly ridiculous
Kickboxer. At least that film has no pretentions to be anything more
than it is.