Movie Review: JCVD
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
"JCVD" is an unexpectedly droll game of three-card monte disguised as an action film that turns into a (fake) reality-TV-style documentary and then into a hostage thriller. At one point - a crazy high point - Jean-Claude Van Damme, the star of "Bloodsport," delivers a wrenching confessional monologue straight to the camera for nearly 10 minutes, fighting back tears when he's not actually weeping. For real. It's fake, but the pain, self-pity, belligerence and pathos are real. So are the filmmaking skills of the director, Mabrouk El Mechri, who also co-wrote this daydream of celebrity ups and downs and the Van Damme image.
At first we think we're at a mid-'90s Van Damme movie. In a giddily sustained single take, while the opening credits come and go, the "muscles from Brussels" offs dozens of anonymous enemies in an urban warfare setting, kicking, shooting, knifing and annihilating with extreme prejudice. Then the sequence comes to an abrupt end, and Van Damme, panting, consults with his blase young director. "It's very difficult for me to do everything in one shot, you know? I'm 47 years old," he says.
The star's star has waned, and he has custody battles to wage involving his daughter, as well as a drug-and-philandering rep to cloud his recent past, and "JCVD" makes hay on all of it. When Van Damme, on a trip to a Brussels post office, finds himself embroiled in a heist and then a hostage situation, he must draw upon his inner Van Damme to resolve it. This leads to the big monologue, which is jaw-dropping: When the visibly shaken Van Damme wails, "It's not my fault if I was cut out to be a star. I asked for it!" the line between fantasy and reality becomes a blur.
The film sags in the middle section, and it's more a novelty item than a fully formed work. But it's very entertaining. And Van Damme proves himself a brave, possibly foolhardy actor, which is more than Steven Seagal ever did.
MPAA rating: R (for language and some violence).
Running time: 1:32.
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD); Francois Damiens (Bruges).
Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri; written by El Mechri, Frederic Benudis and Christophe Turpin; photographed by Pierre-Yves Bastard; edited by Kako Kelber; music by Gast Waltzing; produced by Sidonie Dumas. A PeaceArch Entertainment release. In English and French with English subtitles.