People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
  DVD Pick: JCVD
JCVD was one of the best movies I saw last year, but as I mentioned in my initial review from the Toronto Film Festival, my history with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s movies during my early years as a movie geek sort of predisposes me to liking it (as does my love of meta-humour), so while your mileage with this very odd, very ambitious film may vary, I personally love it, and it just came out on DVD in North America this week.

The film is about Jean-Claude Van Damme (playing himself), a washed-up Belgian action star whose glory days are long behind him, and he now scrapes by making cheesy action flicks for barely-interested schlock directors while trying to win back custody of his daughter. If this all sounds a little too real, that’s because it is – not even Van Damme’s battles with drug addiction are off-limits in this movie, and much of the drama going on the life of his “character” is drawn directly from Van Damme’s real-life trials and tribulations. He returns to his home country of Belgium, where he’s still very famous (as a Canadian, the idea that even though he’s considered a joke almost everywhere else in the world, hometown pride wins out, really resonates; Bryan Adams is still a huge star here), where he unwittingly gets caught up in the robbery of a post office-slash-bank. Due to a miscommunication with the police, they come to believe that Van Damme is actually one of the robbers, which in turn sets off a media frenzy.

I love JCVD largely because it feels like a film made just for me. It stars a has-been actor having fun with his reputation and iconography (there’s a scene where he grudgingly re-enacts a famous bit from one of his movies, and it’s utterly hilarious), is filled with self-referential jokes, and has a lot of things to say about fame and the media. It also looks great – young director Mabrouk El Mechri really has a great eye, and I’d love to see what he does next – and, in the biggest surprise of all, proves that Jean-Claude Van Damme can actually act. There’s a sequence where he talks to the camera in an extended monologue, and it’s completely riveting. It’s sort of unfortunate that it took 20-some years, but Van Damme proves he has talents beyond kicking dudes and flexing his muscles.

If any of this sounds even remotely interesting to you, I highly recommend you give JCVD a rent. It’s a really cool, strange, awesome little movie.

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