Terribrill - The Quest (1996)
A theory: having frittered away millions earnt from Universal Soldier, a franc-less JCVD resorts to touring schools, demonstrating the splits for assemblies all over Belgium. During this period he overhears a 5-year-old recall a dream involving pirates and WCW. It's the best plot outline Van Damme has ever heard; a plan is hatched to restore his fortune by turning it into a movie, slapping on an 18 certificate so the child will never know and, using technology from Timecop, travel back in time to blackmail Roger Moore into appearing. There can be no other explanation.
Actually there is, and it's only slightly more plausible. According to legend, The Quest was lifted heavily from a script called 'The Kumite' by Frank Dux - aka "that guy Bloodsport was based on who may-or-may-not have been a CIA agent." Dux sued Van Damme over the matter, losing the case but bizarrely still gaining a post-release writing credit. The reason you need to know this is because The Quest was the brainchild of two men who list "roundhouse kicks" on their resumes, and they argued in a court to receive blame for a film that is about as culturally sensitive as The Family Ness.
Controversy aside, The Quest is vintage Van Damme... with a difference. If you've seen any of JCVD's early films then you know the drill (and if not, why not? He's like a prototype Steven Seagal) - down-on-his-luck Good Guy™ with inexplicable talent for karate forced to fight for truth and justice against incrementally difficult enemies, occassionally has a mullet. The surprise twist - possibly due to Van Damme fleshing out Dux's script - is the inclusion of more campy fun than the average pummel-fest. Well, an attempt at more anyway. And it very nearly works.
Plot and script are still substituted for stuntmen and springboards, but the sight of Moore locked in a visible mental battle with his own sense of shame is really quite something. He looks smug and scared at the same time - which is unfortunate because a semi-pirate Etonian throwback is the sort of role you'd imagine he would embrace. There's also the suspicion Van Damme was out to prove he could flex more than muscles. Writing, directing, starring - if he was good at any of these then maybe The Quest would have been remembered more fondly.
Moore does manage to retain some of his camp appeal, and there's an excellent turn by James Remar as a pompous champion boxer, but The Quest is ultimately let down by the undelivered promise of an epic tale. New York to Tibet and back is all well and good but it's a transparent excuse to watch people in funny clothes knock seven shades out of each other. No surprise there, but if Van Damme wanted to break out of the serious/action pigeonhole he made for himself with the likes of Death Warrant, then some half-assed cobblers about honour isn't enough to raise The Quest above, say, "charmingly retarded."
Everybody who accepted a part in The Quest should have known better. Roger Moore, James Remar and Jack McGee all had well-established careers, and unless contracts had been signed before Street Fighter came out... well, you get the point. Questionable decisions were made by all. The most baffling, however, was the 18 certificate. There's no reason for it apart from the odd curse word and fight scene; why would Van Damme deliberately limit his audience? Maybe he wasn't ready to let go of his "serious" action star status in fear of becoming the next Hulk Hogan - this was the era of Santa With Muscles after all. And when you put it like that, The Quest turning out to be a nonsensical mess probably wasn't such a bad career move for Van Damme after all.