Movie Reviews
12:17 pm
Tue November 25, 2008

JCVD

"Shooting pigeons , , ,"

"He'd still be shooting pigeons in Hong Kong," says one of the players In JCVD about director John Woo's debt to action star Jean-Claude Van Damme for their 1993 collaboration, Hard Target. Making that film may have been JCVD's greatest contribution to modern cinema although the current film with his initials in the title is more interesting than any previous kick-butt martial arts flick of his I can remember.

The story's framing device is Van Damme's fictional character of the same name unwittingly becoming a hostage in a bank robbery where his inability to extricate himself and the other hostages is a commentary on the impotence in real life of the mythical hero on the screen. The gritty, de-saturated look inside and outside the bank reminds me of the urban realism of Sidney Lumet's bank-heist Dog Day Afternoon. There's even a stringy-haired thug, but Van Damme is no Dustin Hoffman.

In this satire of his mercurial career as an action star, Van Damme ironically manages a mini-Mickey Rourke comeback by expressing feelings for his daughter and for the lost glamorous life of the Muscles from Brussels. His taciturn, expressionless persona is exactly what the satire needs to move it from a comedy about celebrity to a serious attempt to throw his identity into the existential arena.

Indeed one long take in which he tearfully philosophizes about his troubled life is either ludicrous or a rather nice reflection on the vagaries of fame, albeit low rent. The other long take during the titles shows the aging hero fighting his way through a gauntlet of bad guys in a current movie. It's not bad given how bad Stallone could be in the same situation.

Van Damme has had real-life difficulties getting custody of his daughter and righting his tax problems, so JCVD is an apt imagining of his troubles. At some moments he does quite well taking his acting where it has never gone before. That he recently lost a role to Stephen Seagal, who agreed to cut his pony tail for the part, is less an indictment of Jean-Claude than it is a commentary on the vagaries of showbiz heroism.

"Sic transit gloria mundi."