Sunday, November 23, 2008

Movie: JCVD (2008)

Ah, but a man should turn toward the camera and explain how his reach exceeds his grasp, or what’s a meta for? In JCVD, the unlikeliest star goes all Tristram Shandy on our collective asses to tremendous effect. Jean-Claude Van Damme, nee Van Varenberg, plays himself: a 47-year-old Belgian action star with a history of divorce and drug abuse, reduced to making DTV crap in Eastern Europe, reeling from a protracted child custody battle. He returns home to start over only to find himself in a dog day afternoon, trapped in a robbery gone wrong where he’s both assumed to be the villain and hated for not being a hero.

Reflexive stuff fails far more often than it succeeds. (Exhibit A: Richard Belzer’s recent I Am Not A Cop!, which squanders the potentially killer premise of a recognizable TV detective swept up in an actual mystery.) But Van Damme and cowriter/director Mabrouk El Mechri get a surprising amount of mileage out of the idea. It’s strange to watch a guy who fought time-traveling thieves and zombie soldiers meet his match in three desperate, greasy losers, including one who looks like a sleazoid Geddy Lee. And nothing will prepare you for the impact of JC’s impassioned, fourth-wall-breaking speech about the cost that following his dreams of stardom has had on his life. By the end, the movie has built up some genuine emotional power. Plus JC executes a few of his trademark high kicks into the bargain.

The lead Belgian police inspector in the movie is named Bruges. Isn’t that like coming to America and meeting Doctor Detroit?

As it happened, Hard Target (1993) was on cable last night, and I watched it again to see JC at his peak. One of JCVD’s heisters says that if Jean-Claude hadn’t brought John Woo to Hollywood, Woo would “still be shooting pigeons in Hong Kong!” Hard Target remains completely ridiculous, and I still kind of like it.

This short interview offers a taste of JC’s crackpot Zen wisdom.