JCVD: Tussle in Brussels
June 18, 2009
Over the years, I have learnt to hate Jean Claude Van Dammeís films. He goes through the same motions in all of them; bare knuckled and bare armed, heíll pummel the bad guys, Ďkaratesisingí his way through every sticky situation. All this while, failing to act. And now I discover that I am not the only one who dislikes his movies. I have company in Van Damme himself.
In JCVD, Van Damme takes up a role thatís unusual not just for his own repertoire but for any other actor as well. He plays himself. Whatís so special about that, you may ask. Plenty of actors have played themselves on screen. But this is not just another cameo. Van Damme, the actor, is actually the central character in a fictional film.
At 47, he is no longer the action hero he used to be. His movements are strained, the kicks arenít fiery enough and retakes are a pain. To add to this agony, he is fighting for the custody of his daughter, and loosing. His movies have enemies getting killed in the most gory and imaginative of fashions, something that does not augur very well for his being a role model for children. Quality movie offers are drying up and he is bleeding to work with a big studio. And in the middle of this he takes a trip to Brussels where it happens.
A chance visit to the post office leads him straight into the hands of a trio of robbers who have been holding the place up. Their demands havenít been made as yet and word hasnít spread that the place has been hijacked. Cleverly, they use Van Damme as their mouth piece leading the world outside to believe that itís Van Damme himself who is orchestrating the entire show.
In terms of hostage dramas, JCVD may not be a patch on classics like Dog Day Afternoon or The Negotiator. Yet itís much better than turkeys like Albino Alligator. These movies follow a set pattern and after being there and seeing that so many times, it is difficult to keep an audience engaged for too long without innovating. So El Mechri divides his film into different sections, labels them and changes the chronology. Tarantino would have been proud.
A touch of humour helps too. Provided here largely by one of the robbers, a sympathetic individual and a big fan of Van Dammeís. His views on John Woo are hilarious.
JCVD is a very smart choice of film for Van Damme at this point in his career. Where even his shortcomings can be effectively woven into the script. The spoken language too for most part is French. However, having said that, nothing after so many years can change the fact that he is a wooden actor. There is a soliloquy in the film which is to be his moment, his chance to redeem himself. And Van Damme gives it his best shot. You know itís not the finest bit of acting you have seen, yet your heart goes out to him. Youíll feel the same way about the film as well.
Jean-Claude Van Damme