Thursday, May 14, 2009


Jean-Claude Van Damme may be the LAST person in the world you’d expect to be a superlative model of postmodernity, but in JCVD he goes all John Malkovich with a swift kick to his critics and a respectful nod to his fans.

Van Damme plays himself, or at least a bitterer version of himself. He stars in mindless action movies just for the paycheck, acknowledging how bad they are while still depending on the roles for the money. While visiting his hometown of Brussels, Van Damme stumbles into the middle of a bank heist. Confused police officers outside the bank mistake him as one of the robbers and insist he release his hostages. Onlookers outside the bank who still consider Van Damme a hometown hero, however, cheer him on.

Inside the bank, Van Damme appeases the robbers by to showing them roundhouse kicks and signing autographs for them while his fellow hostages expect him to be more like the action star he is in all his movies; a brave martial arts master who can easily dismantle the thieves and save the day. Van Damme is more like them, though. He’s afraid of what the thieves may do to him. They force Van Damme to make phone calls as the real robber to the police with their demands.

Van Damme, however, remains generally calm throughout the robbery. In fact, he doesn’t seem to mind the scenario all that much. With a broken marriage, a downtrodden career, a nasty custody battle and an American reputation overshadowed by Steven Seagal, what does he really have waiting for him outside the bank? At least here the people view him as a hero, and the people outside seem to be on his team. All this is topped off by a self-loathing, self-aware monologue he delivers straight to the camera that makes Charlie Kaufman look like Alain Badiou.

While this final speech seems a bit contrived, the film is overall funny, heartfelt and surprisingly touching, and I don’t think Steven Seagal has ever made anything like that.


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