STUDIO: Peace Arch Home Entertainment
MSRP: $17.99
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
Deleted scenes
Digital copy of the film

The Pitch

Finally, we get to see what a typical day for Jean-Claude Van Damme is really like,.

The Humans

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens, Zinedine Soualem, Karim Belkhadra, Jean-Francois Wolff, Anne Paulicevich, Liliane Becker.

The Nutshell

Portraying himself in a fictionalized setting that nevertheless still manages to capture many details of what his life may or may not be like, a downtrodden Jean-Claude Van Damme gets caught up in a post office heist upon returning to his hometown in Belgium.  World weary from a lengthy custody battle, money problems and a career going nowhere, Van Damme must find a way to save the day, even as he is mistakenly blamed by the authorities and the public for the robbery.

The Lowdown

There are a lot of different cinematic elements and referential material thrown into a melange in JCVD, and the film never quite discovers what type of movie it wants to be: post-modern insight into Van Damme’s life away from the camera,
Inside Man meets Dog Day Afternoon with a narrative theme by way of Go, or a general skewering of what it means to be a star in Hollywood…or worse yet, a washed-up star in Hollywood.  But the film certainly hits more than it misses and had the story and tone been able to come together a bit better, I think this revelatory comeback / reinvention by Van Damme could have been mentioned in the same breath as Mickey Rourke.

I’ve been a Van Damme fan for 20 years.  Although admittedly his movies would certainly get repetitive after awhile, I’ve nevertheless hated to see him struggle with a lot of the dreck he’s been saddled with since he and longtime rival Steven Seagal became the kings of direct-to-video.  But at the basest popcorn level, Van Damme’s earlier films were almost always a good way to get some of that much needed (roundhouse) kick-to-the-head and general carnage fix that us meat-eating guys need from time to time.  It’s gotten way too easy over the last decade to simply discount Van Damme as both an actor and a bankable star.  Of course he seemingly hasn’t put up much of a fight with the material he’s done. 

But there has been experimentation by the star over the years and attempts to prove he’s more than just a spinning kick to someone’s kisser in a bad C- or D-level action film.  He’s appeared as himself in a couple of TV shows, notably Friends and Las Vegas, where he becomes Monica’s infatuation in the former, and gets killed in an ill-advised stunt jump off of a casino in the other.  In his films, he’s chosen the occasional project such as In Hell, where he’s not a badass (at least not at the outset), and at least tried something different.  This is the quintessential difference between him and Seagal.

JCVD is the boldest expression of Van Damme trying something different.  He’s  self-deprecating, very meta and puts himself out there like few actors I’ve ever seen.  Van Damme is all too painfully aware of how the world sees him.  He doesn’t try to deny it, and at times even plays it up.  It’s everything from tongue-in-cheek references to his life, the business, and the oftentimes absurdity of it all.  The clearest example of this is a stirring monologue which I’m sure every critic and his grandmother has mentioned in a review of the film.  It’s a time out between Van Damme and his audience where he lays it all out there.  It’s stirring and very not Van Damme at all, while simultaneously being wholly Van Damme, the man not the movie star.

Shepherding JCVD is director Mabrouk El Mechri, who also co-wrote.  The guy has a great eye and pretty good ear for comedy.  The film has a moody, soft and slightly washed out look to it and also has a fantastic opening tracking shot that encapsulates the heart (which is all too often over the top) of most Van Damme action sequences.  Also a funny exchange between dialogue and  the douchebag Asian director.  Where El Mechri is slightly less successful, however, is his approach of using flashbacks and alternate vistas of the same scenes, which borrow a bit too heavily from other directors such as Tarantino.  I see what he was going for, but the exercise becomes somewhat more of a gimmick that takes away somewhat from the atmosphere of the film.  JCVD is also uneven as it tries to decide what it really wants to be: a stylish caper flick, a skewering of Hollywood or a post-modern study of its star.  It tries a bit too much to be too many things.  Still, there are some great bits, such as one of the bank robber’s attempts to repeat a Van Damme kick on some captive slob with a cigarette in his mouth.

JCVD is an interesting and worthy exercise that I hope opens new avenues for the MFB and El Mechri. 

The Package

The film looks great and is presented in 2:35:1.  There are five audio presentations: the original theatrical (French with English subtitles), a dubbed English version with partial English subtitles, French with French subtitles, Spanish with Spanish, and French with English Hearing for the Impaired subtitles.  What is really missing, however, is a commentary track by Van Damme and El Mechri.  This disc is screaming for that.  There are also 5.5 minutes of deleted scenes and a digital copy of the film.

7.6 out of 10