JCVD could kick-start a comeback for the big screen’s original kickboxer.
JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri). 96 minutes. Opens Friday (November 14). For venues and times, see Movies Rating: NNNNN
Jean-Claude Van Damme's latest movie hits like a helicopter kick to the head. Who knew the Muscles from Brussels could act, especially when he's required to stretch more than just his inseam?
The self-reflexive French-language meta-movie is like something Charlie Kaufman would've cooked up if he worshipped Van Damme's assembly-line actioners like Death Warrant and Double Impact. Van Damme, a washed-up action hero, plays Van Damme, a washed-up action hero. Broke - he's just lost a role Steven Seagal landed by promising to chop off his ponytail - and alone, he goes postal at a Belgian post office and winds up in a hostage situation straight out of a Sidney Lumet movie.
The film's two most remarkable sequences, deftly handled by writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri, offer a fascinating contrast. The first is a four-minute single-shot action sequence from a movie-within-the-movie that leaves both Van Damme and the audience breathless. (If all of Van Damme's action movies were like this, he'd still be a superstar.) The second is a raw tear-filled existential monologue delivered directly to the camera as the hostage crisis nears its unexpected climax. Simply stunning.
Ah-nuld tried something similar in Last Action Hero, an attempt to satirize his big-screen persona that never rose above mere spoofery. But JCVD has a near-documentary quality at times, as Van Damme takes things to a whole other level. It's a brave, vulnerable, melancholy performance that draws on the actor's very real personal troubles, including multiple failed marriages, custody battles and drug addiction. It's black-belt acting all the way and the best ever by a martial artist.
This Hail Mary pass of a performance should make Hollywood take Van Damme's calls again.