Sylvester Stallone and the Governator seem intent on defying the aging process. Rambo IV is a good indication of the futility of this. Jean-Claude Van Damme, however, has gamely decided to roll with the punches. This Van Damme as Van Damme flick is easily his best work, and not really for his typical action-hero audience.
In Mabrouk el Mechris film, JCVD, Van Damme plays himself being run ragged on stunt sets, being told that his character doesnt use a gun in order to symbolize his purity, being sued by his ex-wife and being lectured by a Belgian cabbie for not being the worldly and debonair actor she had always imagined. At an ATM, he cant even get cash. But Van Damme handles a long, soul-baring, existential soliloquy with brilliant world-weary resignation. Yes, even a guy who once graced the covers of karate magazines can have regrets.
JCVD isnt about self-doubt so much as celebrities getting a taste of the day-to-day grind. Though hes embraced as a hero in the streets of his native Bruges, Van Damme has to face up to the fact that he is an embarrassment to his daughter, a nag to his agent and a decoy to some run-of-the-mill crooks.
This is an action film for those who hate action films. Mechris best work is in setting up scenes that confuse whether Van Damme is a man or indestructible action superhero, like when he coaches hostage-takers on the ins and outs of the law all of which he knows from movies and what a believable ransom demand sounds like.
Having Van Damme fight our expectations so hard and so ingeniously is what makes Mechris film fun. But the ever placid-faced Van Damme is so good in it, one wonders if hes ready for a bigger role. This film is his first American release in a decade. Itll be interesting to see what he does next.
JCVD has been held over at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center and runs nightly at 9:30 p.m. through Thursday, Nov. 27. The film is in French with English subtitles.