JCVD (2008)

Rating: B-

Dir: Mabrouk El Mechri
Star: Jean-Claude Van Damme, François Damiens, Zinedine Soualem, Karim Belkhadra

There is one scene in the middle, where the fourth wall implodes and Jean-Claude Van Damme – playing a fading B-movie action star called Jean-Claude Van Damme – speaks frankly to the camera about his failings as an actor, a husband and a man. There’s no way it should work, and yet it does – after more than two decades, for the first time, you see him as a person, and it’s something of a revelation. After a nasty custody battle, in which his cinematic output is entered as an exhibit. Van Damme heads back to Belgium to lick his wounds. There, he’s still a superstar, having made it ‘big’ in Hollywood, at least by the standards of his home country.

However, his plans to recuperate take a wrong turn when he goes to the Post Office, and finds himself in the middle of a robbery gone wrong, which turns into a siege – and the police think Jean-Claude is the instigator, rather than an innocent bystander, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Outside of the opening sequence, as J-C wheezes his way through a single-shot take for an unimpressed Hong Kong director, there isn’t actually much action, with Van Damme’s martial skills largely useless in the real world against criminals with guns. That doesn’t hurt the film too much, though there aren’t any other scenes which have quite the impact of the one mentioned in the first paragraph.

It still remains a startling re-invention for Van Damme, and one wonders whether it will energize his caree in the same, albeit lower-key way, that The Wrestler did for Mickey Rourke. The difference is one never doubted Rourke could act before. Can Van Damme? One still wonders; while the performance here is convincing, I’m not sure how much ‘acting’ is involved and how much he was playing himself. Any decision on that will likely have to wait for his next production; this is a nice post-modern take on the action film, which contains as much brain as brawn.