Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams (Outland, Timecop) and edited by his son John Hyams, Enemies Closer belongs to a category of old-school action movies usually associated with the direct-to-video market: lean, brisk, and distinguished by a clean visual style and an emphasis on practical stuntwork over effects.
However, calling it just another well-made B-action flick would be misleading. The younger Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning betrayed a noticeable David Lynch influence; at times, it played like a Lost Highway for the action-buff set. Similarly, Enemies Closer finds Hyams senior and his screenwriters, Eric and James Bromberg, channeling Lynch and Mark Frost’s TV series Twin Peaks, mixing bizarro characterizations and woodland intrigue with wholesome national imagery.
Set on an island along the Canadian border (though shot, like most modern B-actioners, in Bulgaria), the movie pits Henry (Tom Everett Scott), a park ranger with a past, against a group of Quebecois drug smugglers who’ve come to salvage a crashed propeller plane full of heroin. The smugglers arrive disguised as Canadian mounties, complete with horses and pristine red uniforms, and the movie makes the most of the absurdity inherent in North America’s least imposing uniformed federal agency appearing in an action film. That absurdity is pushed into Lynchian surrealism by the smugglers’ leader, Xander (Jean-Claude Van Damme, wearing a Harpo Marx wig). Espousing veganism at every available opportunity (he wears his mountie uniform with canvas sneakers, refusing to touch leather), Xander is one of the strangest—and strangest looking—movie villains in recent memory, a guy who barks, “Think about our carbon footprint! Think of the children!” while strangling border patrolmen.
Trapped on the island alongside Henry and the smugglers is Clay (Orlando Jones), an ex-con who’s come to avenge the death of his younger brother, which he blames on the park ranger. Henry and Clay’s unlikely buddy dynamic—the source of the movie’s title—roots Enemies Closer in the conventions of ’80s and ’90s action movies, even as Xander’s presence keeps threatening to take it into stranger territory. The tug-of-war between the conventional and the intentionally weird lends the movie’s otherwise by-the-numbers plotline a sense of unpredictability. Even when viewers know exactly where the movie is going, they can never be sure what odd bit of characterization Van Damme will produce along the way. For instance, a minor character’s heroic self-sacrifice—a hoary genre trope if there ever was one—is pushed into absurdist comedy by a monologue in which Xander relates his childhood love for a goose named Edith. Xander’s final line exemplifies Enemies Closer’s appeal. On the one hand, it’s part of a long tradition of corny action-movie wordplay, and therefore reminds the viewer of something generic and familiar; on the other, its humor is too strange and self-aware to seem earnest.