Toronto Review: Mabrouk El Mechri's JCVD

September 5, 2008

JCVD Review

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

Find more posts: Opinions, TIFF 08



i thought that guy died or something.

Darrin on Sep 5, 2008


I think for Van Damme to do something different, he shouldn't be kicking butt and taking names. Which is presumably what he did with this film. I understand why you crave the action in a Van Damme film, but I don't think it's really fair to be nagging that much 😛

Angelo on Sep 5, 2008


the movie is very different and that's why I loved it !! not a lot of action but very funny , that was all I expected from it.

Pauline on Sep 5, 2008


JCVD, is a character that I grew up watching his flicks. I always wondered what happened to him. After reading your review I must say that I am intrigued to see the movie. By the way your site is awesome, I am still new to it, but I love readin your reviews and how you keep up with all the movies out there. Keep up the GREAT work.

Rudy on Sep 5, 2008


I hate to say this but you totally missed the whole point of the movie. The movie is not supposed to be an Van Damme direct to DVD action flick. It is supposed to be something more. You gave it a half decent score which is cool but would you really have given it a better rating if it had just been a typical direct to DVD flick. I for one loved the majority of the movie. The only weakness for me was that I thought the repeating sequences from different view points was a bit unnecessary and caused it to slow down just a tad too much for my taste. Van Damme can act and personally I'd love it if he and the other action stars made more movies like this.

John Allison on Sep 5, 2008


Toronto has some odd picks this year.

Ryan on Sep 5, 2008


I'd love it if it was one hour and twenty minutes of him doing split kicks at any given opportunity.

Crapola on Sep 6, 2008


the movie is very different and that's why I loved it !! not a lot of action but very funny , that was all I expected from it.

Monya on Sep 6, 2008


I'd have to check this flick out! Van Damme has had more than his share of trouble. I still think he's one of the best action stars around. There is no one on the screen today that can measure up to his unique talent and charisma. It's only a matter of time when he steps up again and makes more ass kicking flicks! Thanks Alex, for that flick's synopsis!

Spider on Sep 6, 2008


The funny thing about Van Damme is his movie career died after his best film which was Sudden Death. Yes, it was a Die Hard clone but it was really entertaining. Its no secret the guy has had some real personal demons but he's worked hard making some interesting films for DVD over the last decade. on Sep 6, 2008


I think the best movie JCVD ever made was called In Hell

BigTone on Sep 7, 2008


The first Universal Soldier was fucking awesome, but Bloodsport will always be the best corny action film ever made.

The only Rob on Sep 8, 2008


jean-claude's martial arts skills are unique...artistic. his acting is better than most action heros, yet the critics usually pan him. i think they are jealous! he may speak with an accent but so do a lot of stars. not a lot of stars can speak so many languages, either! he is not a big guy, but he is definitely charismatic. i look forward to seeing this movie.

pat buren on Oct 1, 2008


you see... it's critic's like this, that make people around the world shake their heads... Wondering to themselves.. Why are these the type of people writing reviews...

RomeoRomance on Oct 14, 2008


Exactly what I was thinking after reading his complaint of Van Damme not kicking someone's ass around in a hostage situation in the real world, so to speak. I highly doubt that Van Damme or anyone who is considered a "Bad ass" would do squat in an out manned gun aimed hold up hostage situation. I mean really, get real. This movie should have gotten him a Golden Globe Nod... I'm not saying a win but a nod. Jesus, you see Alex? Now you got me running a late in the game awards campaign for, of all people, JCVD. Happy now?

Johnny Neat on Jan 14, 2009


By far the best acting JC has ever done. The scene that was mentioned where he explains his life story and how it all went the way it did was a very very good scene. I loved the fact that there's no action, only at the start. Which makes perfect sense as it's a story about Jean Claude the filmstar, not JC the uber action dude. It perfectly illustrates the difference between what he portraits on film and what he actually is. The fact that he doesn't roundhouse kick the crims in the post office is only fitting since no one would do that in real life.

hans on Jun 22, 2011

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