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Belgium/Luxembourg/France 2008
Directed by
Mabrouk El Mechri
92 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: When Jean-Claude Van Damme, “The Muscles from Brussels”, hero of many a low-budget action film returns to his hometown he accidentally walks into a post-office robbery and the disjunction between the reality of his life and his screen image is brought brutally home to him.

I confess that I’ve never seen a Jean-Claude Van Damme film but I understand that they are so devoid of artistic aspiration as to fall comprehensively below the conventional critical radar. Whilst this means on the one hand his films are designed for the kind of people who travel in pimped up cars with “doof-doof” audio systems it also means that they are rich picking for cult audiences, aficionados who march to very different critical drums. Clearly director Mabrouk El Mechri, who also wrote the script of this film with Frederic Benudis and Christophe Turpin, is one of the latter group. JCVD is a lovingly back-handed homage to Jean-Claude, a one note performer who like Dolph Lundgren and Steven Seagal were big names in the action movie scene 20 years ago but unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, never found mainstream acceptance and who now face a career twilight zone of diminishing options.

JCVD is not an effervescently high concept movie like Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (1999) but is a rather dour story of Jean-Claude on his druthers, fighting a child custody battle, and getting caught up in a post office robbery, the latter aspect strongly informed by Sidney Lumet's 1975 classic hostage movie, Dog Day Afternoon. It is, however, done with intelligence and dry humour and, given the blurred line between reality and fiction here (apparently J-C was involved in a child-custody case and did get himself in tax difficulties), a good deal of pathos. Van Damme's performance is not in the league of Mickey Rourke’s in The Wrestler but he brings to it a stoic dignity, Mechri allowing him to (literally) rise above the action and reflect on his life and how he ended up where he is.

I can’t say I took a lot away from JCVD but the film is entertaining in a blackly comical way, Mechri’s direction is sufficiently inventive without being gimmicky and makes the most of the material and there is a strong pop-oriented soundtrack, a combination which this a respectable, if not remarkable, addition to the pop-cultural canon.




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