Sunday, 1 January 2012

Dennis Rodman

Back in the 1990s, after producing vehicles for Jean-Claude Van Damme almost exclusively, the prolific Moshe Diamant was charged with turning a flamboyant 6' 6" basketball player into the next action hero. But while Dennis Rodman’s attitude, style and charisma have made him infamous it didn’t attract much attention at the box office.

Diamant is the Israeli producer behind some of Van Damme’s biggest hits and the man who introduced three of Hong King’s most famous action directors (John Woo, Ringo Lam & Tsui Hark) to Hollywood. His last collaboration with one of Hong Kong’s finest was Double Team (1997), a wild spy movie that pitted Van Damme against Mickey Rourke as a terrorist called Stavros.

Though primarily a vehicle for Van Damme, the casting of Dennis Rodman in a “buddy” role was key to the marketing of Double Team. That the title itself was a basketball term indicated this and the bold colour palate for the film seemed inspired by Rodman’s unique fashion sense.

Those unfamiliar with Rodman, anyone outside the USA, were introduced to the sportsman as an arms dealer called Yaz. Bringing his real life bad boy persona to the screen, complete with loud tight clothing, constantly changing hair colour and collection of tattoos and piercings.

Yaz appears throughout the film to assist Jean-Claude Van Damme’s secret agent. He has no importance to the plot, he’s just there to be Dennis Rodman.

Double Team flopped but the studio behind its release, Columbia Pictures, seemed confident that Rodman was the next big thing. He was given Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Supporting Actor (Rodman) and Worst New Star along with Worst Screen Couple (with Van Damme), but the studio ignored that. A Double Team sequel called Double Trouble was mooted but never materialised, however Simon Sez (1999) shares enough in common with Hark’s film that it’s not hard to guess that the script was adapted into a standalone adventure.

Shot in the South of France, Simon Sez was made for significantly less money than Double Team and there was no visionary at the helm. Screenwriter Kevin Elders made his directorial debut and Rodman was the only star, although he was surrounded by a vast number of supporting actors.

To ease the burden of carrying a film, Rodman's co-stars included not one but three comedy side-kicks (the main one is Dane Cook), a love interest, villain and a pair playing a young couple caught up in the mayhem.

Simon Sez was a major box office flop, grossing only $292,152 domestically, significantly less than the $11,438,337 taken by Double Team. But while it’s ranked as one of the worst films, it’s a personal favourite. A major reason for this is Xin Xin Xiong.

After his supporting role in Double Team, Xin Xin again appeared as a highly-skilled henchmen but was also action director. An experienced stunt choreographer, Xin Xin’s skills compensated significantly for the convoluted plot and time-wasting comedic scenes. When the action kicks in it’s a lot of fun.

Notable as one of the first American films to use wirework, it was released prior to The Matrix (1999) and, with its unconventional hero, was something of a forerunner to the extreme sports actioner XXX (2002). It’s failure meant that Rodman’s acting career stalled. A handful of subsequent roles have included Cutaway (2000), which featured Tom Berenger miscast as a cool skydiver called Red Line, and The Minis (2008), a which saw him playing basketball with dwarfs.