' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

The first Jean-Claude Van Damme movie I ever saw was “Double Team” (1997). I saw it not because of Van Damme, mind you, but because of The Muscles from Brussels’s co-star making his movie debut – Dennis Rodman. The Worm, after all, was and remains my favorite professional athlete, dating back to his days with the Bad Boys-era Detroit Pistons, a defensive genius and rebounding savant, his basketball IQ hovering around 200. Yet I loved him just as much when he went full diva, coloring his hair, dating Madonna, hanging backstage with Pearl Jam, publishing ho-hum books, spouting banalities disguised as inanities. It was in his Diva Period when he made Tsui Hark’s “Double Team”, released as his then-team, the Chicago Bulls, were mounting their (eventually successful) assault on a second consecutive NBA title, like, I dunno, if Draymond Green had starred in the latest Johnnie To joint this spring. Rodman might not have set Hollywood figuratively ablaze with his turn, “mumbl(ing) his way through some unintelligible lines,” as Jeff Vice noted for the Deseret News, but he was, as Vice also wrote, “less wooden than his Chicago Bulls teammate Michael Jordan (“Space Jam”).” Take that, your Airness!

Indeed, while it might be traditional for NBA players moonlighting as actors to play a loose version of their basketball playing self, if not just playing themselves outright, be it Jordan in “Space Jam”, be it Julius Erving in “The Fish Who Saved Pittsburgh”, be it Kyrie Irving in “Uncle Drew”, Rodman both did and did not follow this template. Yes, he was playing an arms dealer named Yaz, but Yaz recolored his hair so frequently and dropped basketball references so incessantly, including his former team (“I don’t play with the bad boys anymore, only the good guys”) that it was difficult not to read him as Rodman. That is why the best moment in “Double Team”, as most cinematic scholars agree, occurs when Rodman’s character, in the throes of an arms sale with Van Damme’s, counters the latter’s observation that “Offense gets the glory” by remarking “But defense wins the game.” No one has ever been more qualified to give that cliché a ring of Socratic truth than Dennis Rodman. In his 1996 profile of the future Hall-of-Famer for The New Yorker John Edgar Wideman wrote that “His helter-skelter, full-court, full-time intensity blurs the line between defense and offense”, suggesting Rodman as the living, breathing embodiment of his “Double Team” wisecrack.

As a hardwood-obsessed international man of mystery, Rodman was, in a way, presaging his bizarre, tragic, dude-you-gotta-stop self-appointment as American emissary to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since, his Basketball IQ failing to translate to international diplomacy, he seems to view, a la our current American Ringmaster-in-Chief, the Supreme Leader as a charitable dude. North Korea, of course, hacked Sony Pictures in 2014, and targeted American businesses earlier this year as T*ump and Kim Jong Un were meeting, to say nothing of Russia’s attempts to hack into the American Presidential Election of 2016. It was these attacks, and others, that led, as The New York Times recently reported, and as The New York Time’s Daily Podcast recently recounted, to the United States Defense Department forming a Cyber Command, one that is currently hitting back at Russia, an online arms race of sorts, leading Daily Host Michael Barbaro to summarize “You have to go on the offense to really be on the defense”, at which point I paused and marveled, just marveled, at a current state of affairs so preposterous they were prophesized by Dennis Rodman.

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