Toronto Review: Mabrouk El Mechri's JCVD
by Alex Billington
September 5, 2008
Who is the most popular Belgian actor of all-time? Jean-Claude Van Damme, of course! JCVD, which literally stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme, is a personal introspective on the action star as brought to us by French filmmaker Mabrouk El Mechri. Van Damme actually plays himself, a real life movie star who gets caught up in a routine robbery, but it becomes more than just a story about kicking ass. It's much more about the actor's personal life and troubles he's going though, including losing custody of a child and running out of money. The film starts with an impressive action sequence but unfortunately heads down hill over time. It's not what you might expect, but at the start that's a good thing, at the end, it's not.
JCVD kicks off with an awesome Van Damme action scene, where in one long and amazingly choreographed take, JCVD himself battles upwards of twenty foes, with and without a gun. But we soon see that it was all just Van Damme on set and we move on to his real life. JCVD is not a documentary, but rather a comical, and sometimes emotional, film about how hard it is to become an international action hero. The film has a rather unique and refreshing narrative structure, where particular "chunks" are not shown in exact chronological order, creating a dynamic that builds the story in an enthralling way. While I did enjoy most of what the film had to offer in the way of Van Damme, it wasn't anything too remarkable.
Not only does JCVD never really have any action scenes again (it's a Van Damme movie, come on!), but as the story progressed, it started to turn lose all that energy that it had so brilliantly kicked off with. There's a rather jolting scene part of the way through where in the middle of the action, Van Damme literally stops to explain why his life is what it is and how much it means nothing compared to so many other people out there. He's just a regular guy who learned karate as a kid, then went to Hollywood and some how made it big. At this point the film was already snowballing out of control, without any hope for redemption. Thankfully there's a moment of relief at the end, but that didn't make up for lost time.
I know JCVD is going to get quite a bit of attention because it's Van Damme, which is why I'll do my best to stay away from explaining any more of the story, as that is one of the most entertaining elements of the film. But I must complain about one part that kept nagging me - Van Damme never got up and kicked ass like we all know he could! It was only three guys, why didn't he just use those karate skills? I sat waiting for 90 minutes for Van Damme to do something, but it never happened. Thankfully El Mechri's visual style, an impressive performance from Van Damme, and a rather intriguing story kept me interested anyway. JCVD is not the next Van Damme cult hit, but it is a worthwhile exploration of an action hero we all love.
Toronto Rating: 7.5 out of 10