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Overall Rating
4.15

Awesome: 23.08%
Worth A Look69.23%
Just Average: 7.69%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 7 user ratings



JCVD
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Being Jean-Claude"
4 stars

Although his cinematic output over the last decade or so has been largely relegated to ultra-cheap movies that make their money overseas and which go direct to DVD in these parts, I must confess to maintaining a bit of a soft spot for one-time action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. For one thing, he was instrumental in bringing such noted Hong Kong filmmakers as John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam to America to try their luck working within the Hollywood studio system. While everyone else at that time was cranking out one crappy “Die Hard” knockoff after another, he at least had the good taste to appear in one of the best in the hockey rink-riff “Sudden Death.” Most importantly, his films tended to have a refreshingly goofy streak to them that set them apart from the stone-faced efforts of the likes of Steven Seagal--his adventures saw him teaming up with Dennis Rodman (“Double Team”), playing a fashion designer charged with saving the world from exploding blue jeans (“Knock Off”) and offering long and tortured explanations as to why his all-American characters tend to have such heavy accents. As weird and nutty as those films might have been, they are nothing compared to his latest work, “JCVD,” a bizarre meta-movie spoof in which he portrays himself as a burned-out hack actor at the end of his rope who finds himself involved in a hostage situation straight out of his own oeuvre while confronting his own personal feelings of failure and inadequacy. In other words, it is a Jean-Claude Van Damme film that is aiming more towards the arthouses than the grindhouses and while the results are, not surprisingly, wildly uneven, it is so strange and intriguing that even at its lowest moments, it exudes the kind of strange fascination that keeps you glued to the screen just to see what could possibly come up next.

The film certainly starts off in typical Van Damme fashion with a hellacious action setpiece in which he pummels countless villainous types in a sequence that goes on for so long in what appears to be an unbroken single shot that it plays like a highlight reel of his entire career compressed into one scene. Off-camera, however, Van Damme’s life isn’t as cut-and-dried or heroic as his films--the punk directing the film has no respect for him (“Just because he brought John Woo to Hollywood doesn’t mean he can rub sandpaper on my dick.”), he has just lost custody of his young daughter (to prove his unfitness as a father, the prosecuting attorney enters his entire filmography into evidence) and his agent informs him that an upcoming role has been taken away from him because rival Steven Seagal has agreed to cut off his ponytail in order to play the part. Hell, he can’t even get his ATM card to work, as he discovers when he touches down in his hometown of Brussels and tries to retrieve some cash. At wits end, he goes to a local post office to pick up a wire transfer of money and when the people inside say they can’t help him, he finally blows his top and it is only then that he realizes that he has walked into a robbery that has turned into a hostage situation. Through circumstances too contrived to get into here, it appears to the outside world that it is Van Damme himself who is responsible for the situation and the scene soon becomes an international media circus in which the cops want to end things by any means necessary while the public takes to the streets in support of their one-time hero.

Were this an ordinary Van Damme film, there would be no surprise as to how “JCVD” would play itself out--our hero would decimate the bad guys one at a time with roundhouse kicks to the face before squaring off with the main bad guy in a final reel brawl that would climax with yet another roundhouse kick to the head. Needless to say, that is not how “JCVD” goes about telling its story. For starters, director/co-writer Mabrouk El Mechri doesn’t bother to deploy any real action fireworks except for the beginning and the end and in both cases, they are used mostly to underline just how absurd they are in most films of this type. Additionally, he lets his story unfold in a “Rashomon”-like style in which we see key story points from several different points-of-view so that the full picture of what is going on is only gradually revealed to us. This particular approach is a mixed bag because while it does require a little more viewer engagement than one might expect from a Van Damme film, it eventually begins to feel as if it was incorporated because El Mechri needed a quick and easy way of stretching a fairly thin story into a feature length film.

However, every time that the film threatens to spiral out of control, it pulls itself back together thanks to, of all things, the performance from Jean-Claude Van Damme. It takes a certain amount of nerve and chutzpah for an actor to play himself in a film, especially one that shows him in such a strange light as this, but Van Damme, never known as an especially expressive performer, somehow pulls it off. For the most part, he utilizes an ultra-deadpan approach that does fit in nicely with the otherwise absurd proceedings. The exception to this comes in what is both the film’s highpoint and one of the surreal things that I can recall seeing on a movie screen in a long time, namely an extended monologue in which he waxes profound about his life and career and how the recent collapse of both have left him at wits end. Sadly, no description can possibly do full justice to this particular monologue or Van Damme’s delivery of it--suffice it to say, it is one of those increasingly rare movie moments that you truly have to see to believe.

From a purely commercial standpoint, I can’t really see “JCVD” doing much more for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career other than becoming a minor cult favorite--the relative lack of conventional action beats will put off longtime fans who just want to see one fistfight after another while the hipster crowd who might readily embrace a weirdo meta-movie that plays like “Stardust Memories” with more kicks to the head may mistake it for just another Van Damme kung-fu craptacular and give it a similar wide berth. That said, I do hope that both audiences are able to look past these potential obstacles and give it a chance because while “JCVD” may not be perfect, it is certainly ambitious and interesting and in Van Damme’s bizarrely affecting star turn, it contains one of the most fascinating acting performances ever turned in by a person who is better known for getting into a person’s head through a roundhouse kick instead of through emoting.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17771&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/14/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2008 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2008 series, click here.

User Comments

5/09/11 bored mom Proof the man can really act in the patience-losing scene and the monologue. Catch this VD. 4 stars
9/14/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Funny and sad. Will become a classic 4 stars
7/26/09 Sugarfoot Van Damme's performannce adds a lot to the typically lame art house style story and heroics 5 stars
1/14/09 Shaun Wallner The King of Whoop-Ass 5 stars
12/21/08 sweetgrrl1972 Jean-Claude does a fantastic job! 4 stars
12/17/08 Elizabeth Jean-Claude gives a wonderful performance; film could be better structured. 3 stars
11/25/08 Ian JCVD is really worth watching, even if you've only appreciated Van Damme movies for laughs. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  07-Nov-2008 (R)
  DVD: 28-Apr-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  07-Nov-2008
  DVD: 28-Apr-2009




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