by Del Harvey
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Let me start off my admitting that I have never been a big fan of Jean Claude van Damme’s. However, being human, and liking a good train wreck or car crash as much as the next homo-sapien, when I read about JCVD and saw the trailer I knew I had to see the film. So many 80’s action actors have tried to be something more than the sum of their careers. There’s the poster child, Mr. Arnold, who became the governor of a very big and powerful state. And Mr. Stallone, who got to act with DeNiro and Liotta in Copland. Then there are the rest of the boys - Mr. Norris, Mr. Lundgren, and so on - who really didn’t go on to do much except progressively worse and worse and lower budget films or television shows. And belonging to that crowd is, of course, Mr. JCVD himself. He had the distinction of being Hong Kong action director Ringo Lam’s favorite leading male for all of his English language films, which says a lot, really. But after that, what else does he have to show for a career? Whatever else he may have had, now he has JCVD, and the truly amazing thing is that he can act. He performs. He emotes. He acts!
Writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri and screenwriters Frédéric Benudis and Christophe Turpin have crafted a mockumentary/action-siege film centered around Van Damme, who is essentially a character within the film. In short, Jean Claude the person becomes Jean Claude the subject and focal point of the story. It’s daring, it’s tricky, it’s risky, and it actually does work in its own quirky, charming, out-of-synch way.
The most important reason why it works is this: we are made to feel sympathetic to Mr. Van Damme’s plight - someone has stolen his identity and is in the process of cleaning out all his cash and savings. But it’s not just that. Van Damme also finds himself stuck in the middle of a hostage situation and chased down by a gang of criminals, and like the heroic characters he portrays in his films, he must figure his way out of the ever-worsening predicament.
And then comes one of the most breathtaking moments in the film, when Van Damme delivers a monologue about the coke and the women, and how he has pissed all his fortune and fame away. This is one of the finest moments in the film, and a milestone in Mr. Van Damme’s career.
As an oddity, as a unique take on the action film, JCVD is not to be missed. As a train wreck and car crash, it delivers all that you would expect it to and more. Pick this one up and watch it as soon as possible.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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