Let me be honest right off the bat. I have never been a Jean-Claude Van Damme fan nor a fan of the pseudo-action flicks genre in general. Nevertheless, the “Muscles From Brussels” is worshiped in Jordan and that’s the only way I would ever discover that Van Damme has actually continued to make movies after 1998’s Legionnaire. It would be probably be a bit hyperbolic to say “Van Damme is back”; in reality, he’s back in a very different way.
JCVD (his initials of course) is an indie flick where Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself. An aging, washed-up action star who’s struggling to find suitable work in a Hollywood that has sucked him dry. He just lost a role to his counter-part, Steven Segal who promised producers he’d cut his ponytail off for the first time. Van Damme has money problems. He’s caught in the middle of a custody battle with his ex-wife. He is tired and weary. And so he leaves. Van Damme goes back home to Brussels, hoping to get away from it all, and maybe scratch out a new beginning. Soon after his arrival, he enters a post office where he is eagerly and impatiently waiting for a much-needed money transfer, only to find himself unexpectedly caught in the middle of a robbery.
Normally, this sort of hostage situation is a five minute sequence in an average Van Damme flick. It would take him that long to disarm the robbers with his famous roundhouse kicks, break their bones, smash their faces, pile them up in the corner for the police to take care of, while he frees the hostages. But things are a bit different for the 47-year old, and reality sinks in (more so for the audience than him): bullets can kill you in real life. Nevertheless, he tries to play a minor heroic part, acting as a negotiator between the robbers and the police, the latter who are under the impression that Van Damme is actually behind it all.
French-Algerian director, Mabrouk El Mechri makes something very special here. The film seems to be shot through some sort of gold filter, making everything look a bit grainy and aged, reminding me a bit of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Scenes are cut away, taking the audience between the past and the present in order to approach the same scene from a different perspective, which works a lot better here than in this year’s terrible Vantage Point.
Instead of the typical action sequences, what you get is the surprising discovery that after all these years, Van Damme can actually act. With ironic and often times humorous French dialog (yes, you’ll have to read for this movie), Van Damme life is deconstructed in a clever and contemporary way. His zen-like insights such as the iconic “awareness” of self, all find their way in to the script, and in that context, he is ironically more of himself than any character he’s ever played. I’m not even sure audiences are quite ready to see a Van Damme monologue, where in the middle of a hostage crisis, the camera veers off and zooms in on the broken hero as he bears his soul to the world, describing his failures as an actor, a husband and a father.
You can find JCVD in the balad these days and I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy.