Director (in Japanese): He still thinks we’re making “Citizen Kane”.
My personal experience with Jean-Claude Van Damme is fairly specific. I may have seen “Bloodsport” more than a dozen times when I was teenager. This is not because I particularly enjoyed the film (although I must admit that image of Van Damme doing the splits in his underwear across the kitchen counter tops has never quite left my head); no, the reason I’ve seen the Van Damme classic so many times has a lot more to do with laziness than anything else. My younger brother, he was the one with the obsession. He’s seen that movie countless times and I was just too lazy to get off the couch sometimes when he would throw it on yet again. While the splits may have left their impression, I never saw Van Damme as anything more than an action star joke. After watching “JCVD” though, it would appear that the joke has been on me all along.
“JCVD” is an entirely unexpected experience. Quite frankly, I don’t see how it could be anything else. I mean, what would you be expecting if you found yourself paying to see the latest Van Damme movie? Explosions? Fighting? Poor pronunciation? What would you say if I told you that you got all of that and so much more? “JCVD” is a clever and engaging piece from director Marouk El Mechri that casts Van Damme as himself in a fictional scenario that rings so loud at times, you might think it to be hard truth. Van Damme, having fallen into obscurity, or at least fallen from Hollywood’s good graces, if those actually exist, and is now making quick and easy action pics for even quicker money. He is in the midst of a bitter custody dispute over his daughter and he has simply had enough. He decides to slow his life down and focus on what matters. He just has a few bills to settle first. He walks into a post office in Brussels (where the muscles originates from) and suddenly finds himself in a hostage situation. The police believe he is one of the robbers though and instantly, the world is watching. Inside though, this famous action star is just another person with a gun to his head. The hero has become the victim.
El Mechri’s playful direction takes us back and forth between both sides of the hostage situation while also taking us back and forth in time and place. Van Damme is either taking hits on the set, in court or even from taxi cab driver fans who consider him to be less forthcoming than they expected. The man is broken but trying. This would ordinarily be considered noble but Van Damme is a celebrity and that is simply not allowed for their kind. I’m not about to hand Van Damme an Oscar nomination (as though I have those in my pockets just waiting or something) but his vulnerability, his honesty and his candor are all so surprisingly genuine and effective. He still kicks some hard ass but who ever expected to laugh (with and not at) or think at a Van Damme movie? Certainly not I. After seeing “JVCD” though, all I want to do is give the man a hug.
Review by Joseph Bélanger