Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. In English and French with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, November 14, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
Whether or not action can be art and if actors should be required (or even allowed) to act are the core subjects of JCVD, an exercise in meta-cinema posited—with considerable success—by the Belgian philosopher Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Here, the former Muscles from Brussels plays a burned-out action star called Jean-Claude Van Damme, newly returned to his hometown after flaming out in several straight-to-video flicks and losing a bitter custody battle for his California daughter. People keep ragging on him for bringing John Woo to Hollywood and getting dumped, plus losing his latest role to Steven Seagal. (“But he agreed to cut his ponytail,” he explains, feebly.)
More immediately, JCVD is broke and needs to stop at a post office on the way in from the airport to pick up a wire transfer. Wrong post office. What’s the chance that the place would be in the midst of a robbery run by a psychopath (Norbert Rutili) who looks just like John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon?
Like JCVD, JCVD is not for everybody. The film is, by turns, fun, tedious, brutal, and smart. Personally, I hate hostage dramas, just for starters. But it’s hard to resist the feel of this thing. An orchestral score subtly mocks high-toned thrillers, and the colour-drained imagery, courtesy of French director Mabrouk El Mechri and well-named cinematographer Pierre-Yves Bastard, manages to invoke film noir, faded ’70s exploitation flicks, and graphic-novel starkness.
Best of all, the aging action star delivers a key soliloquy you would never expect from him—in a single, fixed-camera take, no less. Hey, Arnold, been to the movies lately?