In "JCVD," Jean-Claude Van Damme is sorry -- in every sense of the word.
At 47, the Muscles from Brussels is far from the moneymaking action star he once was. Sure, he can still kick a cigarette out of your mouth. But these days, that isn't enough to keep him from losing out lead roles in straight-to-video actioners to -- ugh! -- Steven Seagal.
The dude who introduced John Woo to Hollywood is now working with snotnosed Asian hacks who are too miffed that they haven't hit the big time to properly stage a one-take 3-and-a-half-minute action sequence for the man.
His personal life is even worse. Broke as a joke, he recently lost his daughter in a custody battle, with his ex's attorney noting that his years of crippling and/or killing people (on film, of course) make him an unfit parent. Thankfully, he can always go back to his Belgian hometown and be treated as a hero, even when he is accused of robbing a post office.
Yeah, about that ...
Well, to add to his worst week ever, he walks into a post office as it's being held up by a trio of robbers and gets forced by them to pose as the sole stickup man while they find a way to get out of this mess.
You'd think Van Damme would start doing some Van Damage and become the butt-whipping, bone-crushing man of action we all expect him to be. Instead, he cooperates with the bad guys.
As Van Damme is ready to point out in "JCVD," he's just a regular guy. Even he admits he isn't as quick with the fake punches as he used to be. So no way is he taking down three men with guns holding a post office full of people hostage -- even if one of them is a die-hard fan who probably wouldn't mind getting roughed up by the "Bloodsport" guy.
In case you haven't figured it out, "JCVD" is one cinematically elaborate take on movie star mortality. As co-writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri clearly has a good ol' time doing his own '70s-style heist flick, criticizing tired and racist action movie tropes along the way, he also gives Van Damme the opportunity to deconstruct his own flawed fame.
This is established in a seven-minute one-take monologue Van Damme gives where he literally rises up to the soundstage lights to break the fourth wall and confess his past sins -- excessive partying, drug use, failed marriages, all the goodies -- to the audience.
When Van Damme pitifully rambles about what he has gained and lost in his life, occasionally bursting into tears, it is perhaps the most mesmerizing thing I've ever seen the man do -- and yes, I am counting those splits he did in "Timecop."
There is this weird balance between Van Damme and the whole movie that makes "JCVD" a compelling yet bizarre meta-movie.
You'd think "JCVD" would be a perfect chance for Van Damme to mock his high-kicking action star rep. Instead, he plays it straight while the movie does the mocking for him. As both cops and criminals act as though they are co-starring with Van Damme in a Van Damme movie, Van Damme is the one who can't stop acknowledging the grim reality of everything.
Throughout "JCVD," Van Damme quietly preaches that life isn't like in the movies, especially for those who star in those movies. He would appreciate it more if, instead of admiring him, you took pity on him.
Man, I did that a long time ago when he did movies with both Dennis Rodman and Rob Schneider.