Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francios Damiens, Karim Belkhadra, Jean-Francois Wolff, Zinedine Soualem, Anne Paulicevich and Fran�s Beukelaers
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars
Things seemingly can't get worse for action-movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme (Van Damme). He's just lost custody of his daughter to his ex-wife, he's on the brink of financial ruin, and he keeps losing parts to Steven Seagal. But then they DO get worse... when he ends up being taken hostage during a botched robbery, and the police assume that he is part of the gang (what with him being a down-and-out movie star and all).
"JCVD" is perhaps the most unusual film that martial artist and action star Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever appeared in. It's a film that will take both fans and detractors by surprise and it should appeal to both camps... it should even appeal to movie-goers who normally wouldn't even consider seeing a movie headlined by Van Damme.
The only action scenes that we usually associate with Van Damme happen on a movie set and in a fantasy--the only real punch he throws is very realistic in the way it's portrayed and the outcome is likewise. The film is so realistic and down-to-earth that even though Van Damme is basically a hero by the end of the day, the end is far from happy for him. ("JCVD" follows through on what would happen to an action hero if he were to engage in the sort of shenanigans and mayhem that is standard in those flicks. Van Damme, even though he essentially saves the day, still has to face severe legal consequences for his actions.)
This is a quirky movie that is funny both in the "ha-ha" sense and in the "strange and a bit off-kilter" sense. It is told in a disjointed and out-of-order fashion, ala "Pulp Fiction", and the flow of the story is further broken by a touching speech that Van Damme delivers directly to the audience as it becomes increasingly apparent that someone is going to die before the day is out. It's a speech about Van Damme's hopes, dreams, career, life, and how things both have and haven't worked out. It's a speech that will move even the hardest hearts in the audience and it's based in a number of personal truths from Van Damme's own life, such as his failed marriage, his floundering carreer, and a battle with drug addiction. Like the film in general, it's a meditation on fame, the sad state of the action movie genre at this point, and how things can be going wrong for someone even when they are seeming to be going so right. It's a film that brings out the human that exists behind the fantasy movie tough guy.
(It's also a film that might inspire some sympathy in those of us who have ever railed against an actor for making "bad choices" in their careers. We see Van Damme pleading with his agent to get him a role in a decent movie, but we also ultimately see him willing to accept any role just to pay the bills, thus worsening the downward spiral of a stalling career.)
"JCVD" is a creatively filmed movie that is acted by a talented cast. Regular readers of my reviews have probably already detected my appreciation of Van Damme, so it's not surprising that I feel he gave an excellent performance in this film. In fact, he provied he can act, something many of his fellow action stars have yet to do. (I'm thinking mostly of Steven Seagal, who is the subject of a running gag in the film that's used to illustrate exactly how dead Van Damme's action film career truly is.)
"JCVD" is one of the most unusual movies of 2008. I don't know if it marks a new beginning for Van Damme or whether it's his farewell performance, but deserves to be the former. It shows that he deserves a shot at a career outside the direct-to-DVD ghetto that he has been confined to in recent years.
Check out reviews of action films featuring JCVD at Watching the Detectives by clicking here.