Jean-Claude Van Damme is a name that will elicit feelings of nostalgia for every guy that was a teenager in the early 90’s. Most of us, including me, lived for his next film and had his movies on a continual loop in our VCR’s. But add in a few drugs and several bad decisions and Van Damme fell off the face of the earth, or as they call it in the movie business; he started doing straight-to-DVD movies. However, he still holds a special place in our hearts and it was with much anticipation that I sat down to watch JCVD.
The film is a brilliant move for Van Damme because it requires him to act…as himself. He can’t just go through the motions; he actually has to put some effort into being himself. Not only that, but the film’s premise is actually very original, despite its simplicity. Van Damme (as himself) returns to his homeland of Brussels and while at the post office, he gets entangled in a robbery. But the police and media think he’s the one committing the robbery. Ironically, it sucks to be Van Damme in that situation, but that’s just a metaphor for how much it sucks to be Van Damme in real life. Those real life situations are intermixed with the robbery scenes via flashbacks.
The film balances the delicate act of being a serious drama without taking itself too seriously. It sounds strange, but that’s really what they had to do. Mabrouk El Mechri was careful not to make it look like Van Damme was vying for an Oscar and so there are plenty of gags and references to keep the film grounded in reality. I anticipated that, given the lead star, but what I wasn’t expecting was to feel an emotional connection to the real Van Damme and to be enlightened with a better understanding of who he is and what he’s gone through. All the while, I’m on the edge of my seat to see how the film will end and where it will go next.
I was with the film all the way up until his soliloquy to his fans. There’s a moment where he gets lifted above the set and gives a monologue about his real life and what’s happened to him since he became famous. I liked what he had to say, I just didn’t like the way it was presented in the film. I would have liked to see him say all that to one of the hostages, or in some other fashion without breaking the third wall and taking us out of the film. I would have also liked to see more of Van Damme before the robbery. I enjoyed the scenes with him and his agent and felt that those were the highlight of the movie.
Over the years, I’ve slammed every Van Damme movie for having a contrived plot, unnecessary love interest and over-the-top action. But you don’t get any of that with this film. This is Van Damme bearing his soul on film and it’s both fascinating and exciting. I’ve always liked Van Damme, but after watching JCVD, I actually respect him.