Action star's new movie is pretty Damme good

By Matt Brunson


DIRECTED BY Mabrouk El Mechri

STARS Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris -- as these monosyllabic action stars of the 1980s and 1990s continued to appear in shoddy vehicles that grew progressively more difficult to endure (and let's face it, the career highpoints, such as Norris' Code of Silence or Seagal's Under Siege, weren't exactly Indiana Jones-caliber to begin with), film reviewers were eventually able to bask in the knowledge that their continuing exploits would be kept out of sight by heading straight to DVD, thus sparing us the misery of having to ever sit through one of their theatrical features again. Yet like an unexpected kick to the head comes JCVD, which not only finds Van Damme headlining a movie that has not only obtained theatrical release stateside but is also being promoted as, uh, an art-house film?

Indeed, JCVD has more in common with vintage Woody Allen or contemporary Charlie Kaufman than with Universal Soldier or Street Fighter, as the "Muscles from Brussels" plays himself as a wary Hollywood has-been ravaged by two decades of hard living. While in his Belgium homeland, he stops at a bank and finds himself embroiled in the middle of a robbery during which the three crooks have taken hostages. A mishap leads the outside world to believe that it's Van Damme himself who's robbing the bank, and as the police try to figure out how to best handle the situation (which grows more complicated with the presence of a starstruck crowd, the swarming media and the star's disbelieving parents), Jean-Claude does his best to protect the other hostages while simultaneously hoping to get the upper hand on the criminals. It all makes for a razor-sharp satire on the price of celebrity, and whether or not Van Damme's lengthy monologue is sincere, it's an impressive bit of emoting from a movie star who has always let his feet do his acting for him.

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