JCVD (2008)

Jean-Claude listening to his new bosses

Jean-Claude listening to his new bosses

I’ve never been a huge fan of action films, so I can’t say that my knowledge of Jean-Claude Van Damme films is any good. I’ve known this for a long time, and a few years ago finally watched Bloodsport. I must admit, I really liked it. How much that has to do with the charms of the martial arts star I cannot say, but it is true I have not watched another of his films since, until one day a friend sprung JCVD upon us on a night when we were supposed to be collecting together to watch a horror film.

I’d never heard of JCVD the film, and so of course had no idea what to expect. I’m quite often saying that this is the most ideal situation under which to watch a film; there is no danger of expectation ruining things for you. I believe this is just as true for JCVD as with anything else, though I must say watching it a second time I liked it only slightly less than the first, and the film is likely to still be a pleasant surprise for most viewers no matter how much they know about it ahead of time.

Things aren’t looking good for Jean-Claude Van Damme these days; he’s losing a custody battle with his wife because their daughter is embarrassed by him. He’s struggling to pay bills, and just lost a recent starring role to his martial arts film star rival, Steven Seagal. With nothing much left for the states to offer him, Jean-Claude opts to go home to Belgium, where his roots are, to start over again and make a better life for himself.

JCVD Training

JCVD Training

Unfortunately, things only get worse for the man once he gets out of his cab from the airport and attempts to withdraw money from an ATM. Having no luck, he goes into the Post Office to get some money, but finds it is strangely empty, and apparently closed. But why, he wonders, would the Post Office be closed in the middle of the day on a weekday?

He soon finds out the Post Office is being stuck up by a nasty group of desperate thieves who latch on to Jean-Claude’s stardom and make him their mouthpiece. Jean-Claude is told to act like he is the desperate man robbing the bank and to make demands of millions of dollars and helicopters in exchange for releasing hostages.

Fans and skeptics alike gather outside the Post to cheer and jeer Jean-Claude. His parents arrive, desperate to talk to their son on the phone and figure out why things have gone so wrong. Meanwhile, inside Jean-Claude tries to persuade one of the robbers to let the hostages go and take things over so they can leave the Post Office without anyone getting hurt. The only way to persuade the robber is by latching onto the one thing the guy seems to care about: learning some of JCVD’s greatest film moves!

JCVD addresses his audience

JCVD addresses his audience

While it is no meta masterpiece, JCVD certainly has its moments. I can’t speak to how true the depiction of the desperate movie star is to the events in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s real life, though certainly a great deal of the character’s problems mirror the actor’s; multiple wives, drug problems, casting issues, custody disputes. What must it be like to be the failed martial arts movie star? How does one go from the “Muscles from Brussels” to “that guy that robbed the Post?”

In what I must say is the most impressive scene in the film, Jean-Claude rises above the set for an intimate one-on-one with his audience, where he informs us “this movie is for me.” The soliloquy goes on for something like seven minutes, where JCVD lets it all hang out, and even cries a little bit. Are these the tears of the character from the film, or from the actual, living, breathing human being whom I’m to believe has been batted around by the film industry for years? I suppose that’s for everyone to decide for themselves, but I’m a sap and of course want to believe this man has laid himself bare for all of us to see.

So, while JCVD certainly offers up its fair share of martial arts choreography, it doesn’t stack up to other action films that center around slick moves. It seems much more concerned with the aftermath of fame and drug use than bank robbing and kung-fu fighting. I suppose, then, one could argue this movie is about Hollywood more than anything else. At any rate, I did find it really enjoyable and quite surprising and would recommend to anyone who’s interested in films that are slightly offbeat.


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