Van Damme in the Moldavian Alamo
The synopsis I read for "Second in Command" mentioned that Jean-Claude Van Damme plays an official who is the Second in Command to the U.S. Ambassador in a foreign country and I thought what bad casting. Now I like Van Damme but the thought of him playing an official sounded completely wrong but that is misleading because the official he plays is a top marine. And what we get in "Second in Command" is basically a take on the classic western "The Alamo" as Van Damme leads a small group of men in protecting the U.S. Embassy in Moldavia against resurgents who not only want the American's out but also the Moldavian President who the American's are protecting. "Second in Command" is not classic Van Damme as he doesn't get a lot of action scenes but with a simple and familiar story it is entertaining.
With a new President taking over in Moldavia and civil unrest as the resurgents want him out, Cmdr. Samuel 'Sam' Keenan (Jean-Claude Van Damme - Inferno) is sent in to the U.S. Embassy as second in command. But when local resurgents try and stage a coup Sam and a small group of marines assist in getting the President out of the besieged Presidential Palace and to the U.S. Embassy, but all that does is switch the resurgents focus on to the Embassy. With little in the way of weapons and very few marines Sam must use all his tactical knowledge to try and protect the building and the President whilst dealing with an internal power struggle as CIA operative Frank Gaines (William Tapley) believes they should try and escape rather than defend the base.
Whilst "Second in Command" is set in the troubled country of Moldavia and features local resurgents wanting to reclaim their country what we basically have is an old fashioned western but one set in a modern Eastern European country. Initially it reminded me of those westerns where a varied bunch would get pinned down in a ditch by Indians but then with the focus ending up on protecting the Embassy it becomes a take on "The Alamo" and "The Alamo" is even mentioned during the movie. So that means Sam and the marines are the small group protecting the fort and the resurgents are the Mexicans attacking, instead of just guns and cannons they have rocket launchers and the cavalry is the armed Americans who are scrambled to fly in and help.
That makes "Second in Command" an extremely simple but also enjoyable movie which adds a few twists starting with the semi power struggle within the embassy as Frank Gaines disagrees with Sam over the best course of action. It isn't much of a subplot but adds a twist as does a romantic subplot surrounding Sam being involved with a journalist called Michelle. These subplots are little more than minor distractions but they tend to lead in to an action scebne revolving a rescue attempt.
Now compared to some of Van Damme's movies this is a good performance but at the same time slightly disappointing because there are so few scenes which call upon him to actually kick some butt. And unfortunately these action scenes are often over edited so the impressiveness of Van Damme in action is weakened as the flow is lost through a series of quick edits. Having said that the amount of action is just right and there are some nice moments of ingenuity as Sam and the marines have to out smart the resurgents as they have little to work with.
What this all boils down to is that "Second in Command" isn't one of Van Damme's better movies but there isn't a huge lot wrong with it when all you want is to be entertained. It takes a simple western storyline and updates it whilst transposing it to an Eastern European country and delivers just the right amount of action so that it never becomes dull or just a series of action scenes.