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JCVD (2008)
Rated R

Starring: Jean Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens, and Zinedine Soualem

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

Action star Jean Claude Van Damme has been called many things, but "actor" is most likely not one of the first words to pop into anyone's head at the mention of his name. After a screening of JCVD, that line of thinking might (and probably should) change.

JCVD casts the "Muscles from Brussels" as himself. Facing a downturn in his career and embroiled in a child custody case in Los Angeles, a broke and disheartened Van Damme returns home to Belgium to regroup. He walks to a post office to pick up a money transfer and finds himself in the middle of a bank heist.

The robbers are disorganized and have no real plan for escape. The introduction of one of the world's biggest action stars to their situation does little to calm them down. Based on eyewitness accounts of Van Damme shortly before the robbery, the police and the media decide that Van Damme is the one attempting to rob the bank.

JCVD is less a successful crime story than it is a commentary on the action star and how he's dealt with the decisions he's made in life. The script, co-written by director Mabrouk El Mechri, touches on Van Damme's poor career choices, drug use, and even pokes fun at his sometimes whacked-out philosophical quotes. Told in a fractured timeline style, JCVD at once makes us laugh at, and feel a bit sorry for, Van Damme.

One scene, featuring Van Damme arguing with his agent over a potential movie role, gives us a bit of insight into the making of a low-budget film. Van Damme argues that if the producers are paying him a large sum and, of course, the director and cinematographer have to make a decent amount, there's not much money left for the actual movie and he doesn't want to be a part of that kind of production. For that scene alone, JCVD was worth watching. (In a sly zinger, Van Damme loses the aforementioned part to Steven Seagal.)

Yes, Van Damme acts in JCVD. Instead of just being a cocky, self-assured superstar, Van Damme is portrayed as tired, frustrated, defeated, and very humble. He even fantasizes about what he would do if he was a character in one of his movies. In what is probably the most stunning scene in the film (and possibly his career), Van Damme breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience to explain himself. It's a vulnerable moment and I don't think that I would have ever envisioned Jean Claude Van Damme pulling it off if I hadn't seen it for myself.

If the bank robbery scenario was handled better, JCVD would be easy to recommend. As it stands, it's a curio of a film with a great performance from Jean Claude Van Damme. (Now there's a sentence I didn't see myself writing at any point in my life.)

Trivia: The opening intro scene was filmed at the end of the shoot for insurance reasons. It was rehearsed over an entire night and shot in 4 or 5 takes. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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