Tuesday, December 2, 2008

JCVD (2008, Mabrouk El-Mechri)

During my teenage years, B-grade action movies were one of the many staples of my moviewatching, and since this was the early nineties, the filmography of Jean-Claude Van Damme was intensely familiar to me. So while my Van Damme education stopped around the time I went to college (I never managed to watch the allegedly awesome/crazy Double Team), I was nonetheless heartened to see him turn up in this lacerating quasi-self-portrait. At its best, JCVD holds its star up to audience scorn in a way that few star vehicles do- instead of the gentle ribbing found in most movies of this kind, the blows in this one sting, and a few even draw blood. Alas, the self-inflicted Van Dammage only takes up roughly a third of the movie, and director El-Mechri fills most of the rest of his time with a hostage storyline that drags on for far too long, and which no amount of directorial flourishes or stylistic noodling can make liven up. And while Van Damme himself proves surprisingly game as an anti-action hero, he mostly whiffs his big climactic monologue, in which he’s literally pulled out of the movie to offer an apology for his life and work. Yet I would still recommend the film to Van Damme watchers both old and new, not least for the shit-hot incredible opening shot (even the logos are awesome), as well as the final ten minutes or so, when the story defies the audience’s expectations and hopes for how a Van Damme movie really should end. If Van Damme’s not your bag, adjust your rating accordingly. Rating: 6 out of 10.

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