Jean-Claude Van Damme is engaging as a version of himself in 'JCVD'
20 November, 2008 By SEAN AXMAKER SPECIAL TO THE P-I
In the opening scene of «JCVD», Jean-Claude Van Damme breathlessly takes out bad guy after bad guy with his bare hands (and whatever weapons he grabs along the way) in some unnamed war zone. It's all an act, of course, or rather an elaborately choreographed long take from a movie, and the actor comes out utterly winded. "It's hard for me to do it all in one take," he begs the snotty young director. "I'm 47 years old."
That's the least of his problems. He's gripped in a brutal custody battle for a daughter who is embarrassed by her failure of a dad. He's losing parts to Steven Seagal. He can't even get spending cash out of an ATM.
And after a visit to the post office, he is trapped in a hostage situation that escalates into reworking of "Dog Day Afternoon." In French. With Van Damme reluctantly thrust into the Pacino role by the increasingly unstable gang of robbers.
«JCVD» is an inspired melding of action thriller, satire and biographical drama through the looking glass of a funhouse mirror. Van Damme plays a self-reflexive version of himself in an action film in which the flamboyant heroics occur only in fantasy, where his private life and spiraling career are fodder for sardonic commentary and self-lacerating scenes. Van Damme's most daring stunt is a self-pitying monologue dropped into the middle of the movie. It's hard to tell if it's achingly pretentious, deadpan self-parody or merely Van Damme's idea of screen test.
However you parse it, Van Damme is unexpectedly engaging as a version of himself who is less action hero than vulnerable human being. It's an impressive stunt that pays off in an action film for art movie aficionados, a foreign film for the popcorn crowd. As long as they don't mind reading subtitles.
Jean-Claude Van Damme