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Review The Quest (1996): Van Damme's directorial debut fails!

genre: martial arts, action, adventure, drama

There used to be a time Van Damme could do no wrong. I consumed almost every film he served. The Quest was one of them. Normally I can remember almost every event of a film I have seen. But apart from the fights I had trouble remembering the other events. And there is a good reason for that.

It's clear that Van Damme tried to remake Bloodsport but only in another setting and time. For whatever reason The Quest is a period piece where the best fighters of the world receive an invitation to compete in a prestigious tournament. Most of these fighters are champions of a specific martial art that have no roots to the country they represent. So why this tournament is putting countries against each other is beyond me. I guess Van Damme wanted to make this film more global and bigger. His ambition doesn't stop here. He also has implemented several sub plots that don't go anywhere. One of them is a plot concerning him and a group of street kids who are pursued by the mob and the police for robbing the gangsters. The kids get caught and Van Damme flees the scene with the intention to bail the kids out. We are never shown how he does this. Yet in the epilogue we are told he managed to get the kids off the streets. No mention of the gangsters and the consequences of having robbed them. The mafia would never ever let that slide. If anything the ending is so rushed you never get a proper send off from Dobbs and Harry Smythe (Roger Moore and Jack McGee). These two are the only ones who give this film some credibility. 

Now you might be wondering why I make such a big deal about the plot and not the martial arts which you would assume would be the main event. And it is, sort of. The film has a duration of 95 minutes. The tournament starts after 53 minutes or so. Doesn't sound like much. However it feels like forever. The pacing is so slow. Now if the fights were of the same quality that were featured in Bloodsport that would have been awesome. Except everything that made Bloodsport fun is completely absent here. Sure some fighters are exceptionally skilled. But none of the fights feel like there is something at stake. Not even the fight between Van Damme and Abdel Qissi. One might think that Qissi is the big baddie. Surprisingly enough there is nothing exceptional about him except his size. He never speaks and apart from a few acts you could consider him as a jerk. But someone you want to beat to a pulp? Nope. It's like Van Damme has completely forgotten what made Bloodsport and Kickboxer so good. While both had relative simple stories the fights were exhilarating and exciting. The fights in The Quest are boring. Some of are over before you know it and they also couldn't be bothered to have a montage with cool music. Actually that is the one thing that is truly generic. The background music is so dull and uninspired. I get that they were going for a more triple A approach but it almost sounds like they used the first copy of stock sounds they could get a hold off. 

Ambition and scale wise The Quest should have been an epic. But lack of experience or perhaps incompetency prevented that from happening. Mind you The Quest could have been far worse. Thankfully veteran actors like Roger Moore made the film far better than it deserved. I can't in good conscience recommend this. 

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