Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as himself in this movie in which he returns to his birth country to find peace and tranquility.
Jean-Claude Van Damme, François Damiens, Zinedine Soualem, John Flanders, Saskia Flanders, Jesse Joe Walsh
Mabrouk El Mechri
If, per chance, you missed out on Jean-Claude Van Damme -- the "Muscles From Brussels," the star of "Double Impact" and "Sudden Death" -- you might not get the joke of "JCVD." On the other hand, one hardly needed intimate knowledge of John Malkovich to find it amusing that he might have a portal in his brain that emptied onto the New Jersey Turnpike (in "Being John Malkovich").
Playing Jean-Claude Van Damme is what Van Damme does in "JCVD," Mabrouk El Mechri's inventive, insightful and utterly surprising movie. It takes you places you're not prepared to go: namely, into the soul of a performer best known for flying back kicks. Who, by the way, can act.
From the time we first see him, he's a convincingly weary guy. Van Damme may be the idol of millions, but his career has been a roller-coaster tour of fame, substance abuse and incipient ex-fatherhood. He needs money. When he dashes into a bank, there's a robbery in progress. Outside, the police and the citizenry think Van Damme has gone rogue.
Although humor, violence and nervous tension are generated by "JCVD," El Mechri's prank is putting an action star in a movie that debunks the mythos of action stars. With a gun to his head, Van Damme is like anybody would be. In what is a rather phenomenally naked piece of acting, Van Damme at one point delivers a soliloquy on his past life and regrets, directly into the camera, and one can shrug it off if one has no heart. But it's not just emotional, it's crafty: Through it, Van Damme seizes control of the movie and control of his image.
You see why Van Damme is a plausible enough suspect for the cops. But they are fans, too. So are the robbers. While one taunts our hero, another worships him. And the love/hate/adoration/envy relationship of the public to its screen stars is made flesh.
"JCVD" is not a perfect film. It sags, it gets cute and the sepia tone in which everything is shot eventually comes to reminds us why Technicolor was invented. But it certainly has heart. It's hard to resist: Here's a battered superstar who has occupied so many fantasies, but in his fantasies he's just like us.
-- John Anderson (Nov. 21, 2008)
Contains vulgarity and violence.