‘Double Take’ (1998): Twists, turns & bad haircuts

“He was a writer … at the right place at the wrong time.”

By Jason Hink

That’s the tagline on the video trailer for Double Take, a 1998 straight-to-video thriller starring Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It, TV’s One Tree Hill), Brigitte Bako (Dark Tide, Red Shoe Diaries) and Costas Mandylor (the Saw films, Picket Fences).

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Present day Generic Metropolitan City, 1998. Struggling novelist Connor McEwan (Sheffer) wants to make it work with his estranged wife, who’s divorcing him. During a trip to the jewelry store to purchase her a gift, a thug (Mandykor) guns down the owner. Connor manages to escape and later picks out the shooter in a police lineup, who’s then found guilty in court and sentenced to prison.

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But there’s a problem. A beautiful woman (Bakko) mysteriously arrives, claiming Sheffer made a mistake; she says the wrong man was convicted of the crime. Connor later spots the real thug on the street and, realizing his error, spends the rest of the film trying to convince police that they got the wrong effing guy.

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Double Take arrived in video rental stores just as DVD was taking off in the latter years of the ’80s and ’90s direct-to-video boom. There are glimpses of high quality filmmaking on display here, but underneath the (at times) slick images lies an unmistakable so-bad-it’s-good-style B-thriller.

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In execution, the film plays like an extended episode of a prime-time network soap opera, complete with stiff acting, one-dimensional supporting players, double-crosses and evil twins. This could’ve been a “2-hour season finale of Melrose Place!”

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And the soap analogy isn’t farfetched — both leads have plenty of daytime television credits to their name. But credit where it’s due; Sheffer isn’t terrible – he’s a good “bad” actor—just solid enough to carry such a film and keep viewers invested in how it’ll end.

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One funny point: Sheffer manages to divert the viewer’s attention away from his questionable thesping and the film’s plot holes with…his hair!! His ridiculous mushroom cut could have only been cool in 1998! (I should know; I had one too.)

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Brigitte Bako (as Nikki Capelli) is a female version of Sheffer (sans the hairdo), her acting on par with her leading man, and she looks good in all manner of skimpy attire the costumers throw on her. Bako would later involve herself in “respectable” pursuits, such as TV’s G-Spot (which she also produced), and voice work in animated series like Gargoyles and Godzilla: The Animated Series (both mid-’90s cartoons).

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Costas Mandylor plays a dual role as both the main villain and (SPOILER ALERT!) his twin brother. Of all the actors in Double Take, I would’ve bet Mandylor would be the one to go on to a lucrative career. He has a good, timeless look, and he’s able to play a hero or villain with acting chops on par with his costars. A quick scan of his credits reveals a wealth of projects, most prominently playing the character of Mark Hoffman in the Saw horror series.

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Double Take is filled with red herrings, twists and turns, which is what I remember most about low-budget, ’90s, direct-to-video/late-night Skinemax shizz. In fact, there are soooo many twists it can be confusing if you’re not paying attention…but this is what you do with a limited budget—throw as many twists as you can at the viewer to keep ’em interested and draw attention away from the acting, inconsistencies, and low-grade action set-pieces.

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Part of the fun is watching director Mark L. Lester shoehorn in the romantic triangle between Sheffer’s McEwen, Bako’s Capelli and McEwen’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Peggy (Torri Higginson, Stargate Atlantis, NCIS). Why does Peggy want to screw loser McEwen in the middle of the film, after it’s clear she’s moved on? And if McKwen wants his wife back so bad, why does he (out of nowhere!) bang Capelli?

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It’s all part of the fun, of course. Director Lester and screenwriting duo Ed and Ralph Rugoff know what they’re selling, and you don’t release a movie like this without bringing the late-night cable goods, even with no rhyme or reason for the “romance” to exist.

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A quick look at American World Pictures, which produced the film, shows that it’s owned by director Lester. In business since 1993, the website (which sports an outdated 2007 copyright footer as of this writing) appears to have ceased updating sometime in 2015. (Its corresponding Facebook page was last updated in 2011). A scan of other American World films looks like what you’d expect—a slew of direct-to-video schlock, all of which looks fun!

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Lester, a prolific cult film director, previously helmed some of my ’80s favorites, such as Firestarter (1984), Commando (1985) and Armed & Dangerous (1986).

The funniest quote in the movie comes when Sheffer tries explaining to his neighbor buddy that Bako’s Capelli might not be who she seems:

If it was all an act, it was one of the great performances of all time.

Yes indeed! (Ohhh, the irony…)

Make sure to pay attention to the “One Year Later” epilogue at the end of the film. I was dying to see if McEwen had ditched the mushroom cut, but no…instead, (SPOILER ALERT AGAIN!) Capelli adopts the same style! It doesn’t get better than this, fellow lover of bad movies.

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Back when I collected VHS I bought a lot of bulk lots of films for cheap. Naturally, they contained a lot of direct-to-video crapfests. This was one of those films, and from what I can tell, it’s only ever been released on VHS. Our copy here at Movies and Drinks is a screener, which includes a great sales pitch to video stores along with trailers for other films prior to the start of the picture.

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To sum up, if you’re a fan of ’90s-era twisty mystery thrillers and you don’t mind a little B-level, late-night cable aesthetic, Double Take is a fun 86 minutes to sit through if you have time to kill.

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