Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri
Written by Mabrouk El Mechri and Frederic Benudis
Jean-Claude Van-Damme as J.C.V.D.
Francois Damiens as Bruges
Karim Belkhadra as Le vigile
Jean-Francois Wolff as La trentenaire
Rated R for language and some violence.
With nearly thirty seven movies on his filmography, its a bit of obvious irony that "JCVD" is the first film I have ever seen that features Belgium action star Jean-Claude Van-Damme. After doing mindless straight to video action film after another, Van-Damme returns to the big screen with a odd choice. With a mixture of action, comedy, and parody, its a shame to watch "JCVD" go from being a satire of Van-Damme, to being a self-indulgent gimmick that is not nearly as much fun as it seems to think it is. Granted, it is probably Jean-Claude Van-Damme's best on screen performance, and I feel I can safely say that without having seen any of his many action fare.
The film starts with a rather impressive opening credit sequence, which features Van-Damme on the set of his latest masterwork, during the big action climax all in one take. After the director calls cut, a sweating Van-Damme pleads with his director-"I'm forty-seven years old. I can't do these one takes anymore," while the director just replies "He still thinks we're making Citizen Kane." From there, we begin to see Jean-Claude's rather messed up personal life, which includes a custody battle for his daughter. His ex-wife's lawyer complains about the content in the movies Van-Damme makes for money, leaving Van-Damme in a period of disgrace. On the way to the post office to wire money to his lawyer, he ends up smack in the middle of a robbery. When the three robbers decide to use the presence of an international movie star to their advantage, the policemen in the streets are convinced that Jean-Claude Van-Damme is the one holding the post office hostage, leading to a massive media confusion and a mob of starstruck fans.
The amusement factor of the film lasts for about twenty minutes, before the screenwriters run out of plot and rely on a forced storytelling technique, which shows the same scene from several different characters points of view. It was fun watching Van-Damme poke fun at himself during the early scenes, providing satire to not only his own movies, but to his action peers trying to relive their former glories-Stallone re-doing "Rocky" and "Rambo," or even the talk of Mel Gibson doing another "Mad Max" or "Lethal Weapon." The jokes about his Belgium fans are also pretty funny, and even the absurd storytelling of Van-Damme holding a post office hostage. But there just isn't enough here for a full movie, and it leads to scenes and little moments being stretched on to a rather unbearable length. The segment of Van Damme walking from his car to the post office is shown three separate times, from three different viewpoints. While it does reveal more about the incident in question, it feels more like padding for screenwritings that do not have enough story to work with. Most of the film consists on Van-Damme talking with his captors, including one of them who is a huge fan and wants to learn some of the stunt work, which provides for some good comedy. Sadly, there is no big ironic action climax at the end of the film, just a mere shootout that is brief and nothing too exciting.
Perhaps the most interesting moment in the film comes towards the end, where in a one take confessional Van-Damme speaks directly to the camera and soliloquizes about his career, his life, and just exactly what it is like to be Jean-Claude Van-Damme. It's an odd moment-his character rises above the set and speaks for nearly six minutes. Perhaps its the kind of one take that JCVD would rather do than long action sequences. In one aspect, its allows him to flex some kind of emotional muscles (without the pun intended), but at the same time it bogs the film down with a certain amount of self-seriousness. It becomes less about parody and more an exercise in self-indulgence. And this is the main problem with the film, which works to amuse for a brief amount of time and than simply becomes a piece on narcissism. And it becomes impossible to even consider taking Jean-Claude seriously as half the film he spends poking fun at himself. "JCVD" does not know which direction to go, and ends up failing as it goes somewhere in between.
Mabrouk El Mechri's direction is choppy and filled with quick cut edits. The dialouge does not have any wit, and consists mostly on people saying Van-Damme's name, in both admiration and in urgence. Van-Damme seems to be having a good time, and the films best work probably comes from him. There is just a fun fascination watching him make fun of himself-I only wish it lasted more than a few minutes. I enjoyed watching the scenes that prodded around in the movie-making business, and before the film becomes muddled in the weak story, there are some fun Hollywood moments, including some of the scripts that are pitched to Jean-Claude while he is depressed about his life. "JCVD" is a failed and disappointing satire on the actor, but at least puts one semi-decent work to put on his certainly interesting filmography.