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March 16, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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JCVD

JCVD stands for—yes—Jean-Claude Van Damme. Let me state first and foremost this is the best film I have seen starring Van Damme, although my last points of reference are Double Team with Dennis Rodman, and the abominable Knock Off, which boasted the worst theme song I have ever heard. Yet, for as long as I have known Van Damme, he has really only made that kind of film. So it is absurd that a film which literally bears his initials in the title isn’t really a Jean Claude Van Damme film at all.

In JCVD, Van Damme is ostensibly playing himself, an action hero whose stardom is on the wane. After a fantastic opening, which is the only ‘action’ sequence in the film, we cut to Van Damme in a difficult custody battle. Struggling to find the funds to pay for a lawyer, Van Damme stumbles upon a post office robbery, where rather than playing the hero he is forced to play the role of the hostage.

JCVD has met quite a lot of acclaim, with many critics finding the irony of the whole thing very clever. The film constantly breaks the fourth wall, and is centred around our knowledge of Van Damme’s films and the self awareness of his stardom. For all its cleverness however, I can certainly imagine this film is going to be appallingly marketed on DVD. JCVD will leave most action film fans saying “What the hell is this?” well before Van Damme launches into his extended soliloquy, which is both the film’s centrepiece and most interesting scene.

That said, the film’s intentions are good. Van Damme displays more bravery in this film than in any of his others. He allows himself to be made fun of and emasculated, as he finds himself in a situation he is unable to fight his way out of (perhaps an allegory on stardom itself). Most impressive, besides Van Damme’s willingness to lay himself bare, is his actual performance, which is really quite good.

Scanning his future projects however, I notice that Van Damme is shooting yet another of the terrible Universal Soldier franchise. If by some extraordinary sequence of events Mr Van Damme himself is reading this, I urge him to shed his futuristic army attire and to walk off set, because he is better than that, and with JCVD he proves it.

Written by Frédéric Bénudis, Mabrouk El Mechri and Christophe Turpin
Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri With Jean-Claude Van Damme, François Damiens, Zinedine Soualem
Showing in the World Cinema Showcase at the Paramount 2–15 April 2009

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