I don’t think I ever stopped enjoying a Jean-Claude Van Damme film. He was the first action hero that I identified with—in my mind at least. I missed out on Sly’s Rocky and Rambo and Arnold’s Conan and Terminator in the late 70’s and early 80’s, (don’t worry, I learned of their importance later) but Bloodsport and Kickboxer were movies that I can still remember seeing on the screen.
His first years in film were my favorite—No Retreat No Surrender as a Russian mob thug, a revived Vietnam Vet in Universal Soldier and I even liked The Quest and Double Team with Dennis Rodman…hey, it had awesome one-liners and a halfway decent amount of fighting (some of it was sans Van Damme). But the point remains that Van Damme was on top of the game for quite awhile, until his bankability sank steadily leading up to Universal Soldier: the Return. It was meant to be a good idea and Michael Jai White is pretty kickass, but even I, JC’s biggest fan, had finally seen how far he’d fallen. Drugs, bi-polar disorder, problems with his family and trying to fight Chuck Zito sent JC hitting rock bottom.
But then something miraculous happened—Jean-Claude made JCVD, a movie about his real life, having no money, a fading career, a child custody battle, and all of the ridiculous situations that come along with it.
Van Damme goes back to his home in Brussels for a much-needed break, only to find himself a hostage in a bank heist gone wrong—and due to an unfortunate mistake, the police think he’s the bank robber. In the end, JC is stripped down to his barest delivering a monologue right into the camera about his life and regrets and it’s there that Van Damme takes control of the film. JCVD becomes more than an emotional comedy, it becomes crafty film. But Van Damme is tired of being Van Damme, and while everyone from the bank robbers who both worship and taunt him to the public’s love/hate relationship with him, JC just can’t deal.
It’s quick, humorous, and entertaining, but it also delivers a brutal honesty. You can say this is Van Damme’s Wrestler, proving that not only is he back, but he really can act. Like Mickey Rourke who played a wrestler way past his prime, Van Damme finds himself close to the edge too—but he realizes it and takes this opportunity to let us know that he’s in on the joke too.
Let’s face it, this isn’t Cyborg, but it’s still awesome. And Van Damme might have the rejuvenation we’ve all been looking forward to—Universal Soldier 3? Check.