Friday, December 05, 2008


In theory it appeared to be a great idea -- Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a washed out action hero struggling to make ends meet, reflecting on his career, all the while speaking in his native tongue. That was enough to get me intrigued. I stayed away from reading the story and chose to have the film speak for itself. But unfortunately, it only appears to have been a great idea on paper. When translated to the screen, something does appear to be missing. Although the film does hold a lot of promise and contains enough to make it worthwhile, it truly feels like a missed opportunity for something better, something greater even.

Mabrouk El Mechri’s feature begins in brilliant fashion. Van Damme is shooting a scene for an action film, doing what action heroes do best, but at the end of the take he appears to be tired. That is when he approaches his Asian director and tells him that he can’t do action scenes in one take anymore as he is “47 years old”. But the Asian director wants none of it and continues to throw darts at a Hollywood target poster. The director’s translator conveys the words to Van Damme along with a jibe about John Woo and Hollywood. The John Woo reference is brought up again later on in the film by a few Van Damme fans who believe that if it were not for “the man from Brussels” John Woo would still be “shooting with pigeons” in Hong Kong. The best part of the film is such film jokes which poke fun both at Van Damme and even at the action film industry in general, such as how Steven Seagal beat Van Damme to a part because he agreed to cut off his pony tail. The film is sprinkled with these jokes and balances the serious moments delicately along with the lighter side of things.

Immediately after the opening scenes, we witness how Van Damme is involved in a custody battle for his daughter, an issue that forms the crux of the actor’s pain. After stopping for a brief photo and autograph session with some fans, Van Damme heads to the post office when some gun shots are heard. We see his face through the broken window asking the local cop to get away, but the cop assumes that Van Damme is the one holding hostages at the post office. The media jump on this story and his action fans gather around the post office to support their hero. There are some clues given to who is doing the actual hold up, but the film then does a rewind of sorts and shows the post office scenes from a different point of view, explaining how Van Damme became a hostage himself. While some of these scenes were useful, the film’s momentum is actually halted by explaining things unnecessarily in detail as there is enough for the audience to gather on their own. Still, the hostage situation brings its own mix of humor and reflection; humor when one of the robbers turns out to be a big Van Damme fan and asks his hero to demo some karate kicks while Van Damme reflects on his own life and what he has accomplished. In an interesting sequence, Van Damme is lifted high above the ground and addresses the audience directly, exposing himself via his honest confessions.

JCVD does raise some interesting points about perceptions of actors and even the film industry in general. Van Damme is frustrated to be getting the same cliched parts, playing the action hero in the nth sequel of a meaningless film, and blames some directors for ruining his career. Mabrouk El Mechri’s film does show that Jean-Claude can indeed act and offers much more than brainless action roles he plays over and over, so why is he not getting offered anything else? By playing himself in the film and given some of the dialogues, the film does have a autobiographical feel to it, but there are also some cuts which allude to the film within a film nature of JCVD. Even though the film only has a running time of 96 minutes, it would have been much stronger had another 10 minutes being trimmed. Still, overall it was refreshing to see a director integrate humor, action and tender emotions and allow Jean-Claude Van Damme to open up and use his face and expressions, and leave his muscles on the side.

Rating: 7.5/10

1 comment:

Pacze Moj said...

I've been wanting to see this for a while. Have you seen JVCD's first film role? It's on YouTube...