Tag Archives: Jean-Claude Van Damme

JCVD (2008, Mabrouk El Mechri)

JCVD might be the ultimate vanity project. I’m not sure if there’s any intention in Van Damme trying to rehabilitate his image–his fans will be his fans no matter what, something the film touches on–but it’s kind of spectacular in its purity. Van Damme’s a well-known punch line, a leftover from the 1990s, and he knows it. What’s strangest about the film is that self-awareness. Van Damme gives a good performance as “himself,” even if his movie personality is a little different (more affecting but generally true) than the real Van Damme.

It’s a rouse–there’s a long aside, which starts on shaky ground because of its presentation (and what’s a theatrical aside doing in a rather cinéma vérité film) but eventually comes around because Van Damme’s actually really good delivering it. He kind of loses it at the end, but due to the presentation technicalities, not his delivery. But part of JCVD is accepting the rouse, participating in it. It’s Van Damme laughing at himself, but not so much, because he’s one of maybe three people who could make a movie like this one.

Nothing I’d read about the film actually prepared me for its actual content. JCVD drops a cheesy action movie star in the middle of a real bank robbery. That Van Damme’s in his native Belgium where everyone loves him–regardless of this detail’s veracity, it’s constantly amusing–turns the unlikely situation into Dog Day Afternoon. The dynamics of the bank robbery are what set JCVD apart. It’s a movie situation handled in an anti-cinematic manner. The bank is awkwardly laid-out, so it’s hard to know where people are located, not the ideal for the hostage drama. The dynamic between the robbers–one idolizes Van Damme, another is seriously disturbed, none are very smart–provides a lot of drama to the film, which lets Van Damme sort of be.

Van Damme’s bad day–a failed custody hearing, money troubles, career woes–all comes off as a little contrived. It’s effective because of El Mechri and his approach. There are frequent small cuts to give off the vérité feel; they work, even if they’re somewhat suspect. And Van Damme’s willing to mock himself, his image and everything else. But he’s mostly laughing at the audience, because the film’s positing its Van Damme could never do anything like this film, this singularity in a career otherwise exclusively straight to DVD, but here he is doing it and succeeding at it.

In the end, Van Damme doesn’t actually pull it off. He tries to though and makes the grade for effort. It’s strange to watch him act in the last scenes, because he’s trying real, real hard, but he can’t attain the sublime. But it’s fine acting and the film’s full of it. But since he’s the whole show, it’s hard to talk about anyone else.

If JCVD were a coda, it’d be a coda to a career undeserving of it, but it’s not a coda. Even if it’s unable to achieve the singularity it’s going for, it’s still distinct.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri; written by Frédéric Bénudis, Mechri and Christophe Turpin; director of photography, Pierre-Yves Bastard; edited by Lako Kelber; music by Gast Waltzing; produced by Sidonie Dumas; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD), François Damiens (Bruges), Zinedine Soualem (the man with the bonnet), Karim Belkhadra (the watchmen), Jean-François Wolff (the thirty-one-year old) and Anne Paulicevich (the clerk).


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Bloodsport (1988, Newt Arnold)

At least Bloodsport is earnest. It’s also atrocious and unwatchable, but it is earnest. It really thinks the scenes with Jean-Claude Van Damme staring into space and flashing back to his childhood are a good idea. It thinks the crappy dialogue is okay. It thinks casting very recognizable (as the Hong Kong gangster from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) Roy Chiao as a Japanese guy is okay. For all the Cannon movies I’ve seen… I think Bloodsport might actually be the worst made.

The movie has absolutely nothing going for it, except conjuring the image of a Bloodsport rerelease box touting the presence of (now) Academy Award winning Forest Whitaker. Newt Arnold–who apparently did a lot of second unit work–cannot compose a shot, cannot move a camera, cannot direct actors. The writing’s laughable and only made worse by the performances.

It doesn’t open with Van Damme, which turns out to be a bad idea. Instead, it opens with a montage of the preparations for a highly secretive (and now presumably fictional) martial arts competition. This montage was, I think, meant to be classy, but thanks to the music, it’s a joke. The bigger joke is Donald Gibb getting the focus of the opening montage–Gibb is a recognizable big and gruff guy, he’s got lots of TV bit parts in his filmography–since he can’t even deliver a line.

Van Damme’s awful, but in a funny way. His earnestness comes through, but the acting in Bloodsport is like a public access commercial for a plumber. It really is the worst Cannon movie I can remember seeing–part of, anyway. I had to stop a few seconds after Leah Ayres shows up. It just gets too moronic.

I realized, as I stopped the movie, I haven’t been watching a lot of movies this bad lately. I only tried Bloodsport again because I remember thinking it was really good when I was nine (was I wrong) and I’d heard, ten years later, it was decent. Then the widescreen DVD came out and I kept tripping over references to it, so I rented it.

Bloodsport and its genre–the white guy martial artist–ended up direct-to-video pretty quick (and the whole genre got a footing because of video) and it’s embarrassing. I’m sure there are now direct-to-DVD movies just as bad–worse probably, thanks to the cheapness of video–but there’s an unfortunate legitimacy to these movies. They did indeed get theatrical releases. People did go and see them. Major newspapers did… occasionally… review them.

I couldn’t even get to the fighting scenes.

Someone needs to interview Whitaker about all the crap he’s made, I’m sure he’d be in good humor about it and it’d be funny to hear his stories.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Newt Arnold; screenplay by Christopher Cosby, Mel Friedman and Sheldon Lettich, based on a story by Lettich; director of photography, David Worth; edited by Carl Kress; music by Paul Hertzog; production designer, David Searl; produced by Mark DiSalle, Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Frank Dux), Donald Gibb (Ray Jackson), Leah Ayres (Janice Kent), Norman Burton (Helmer), Forest Whitaker (Rawlins), Roy Chiao (Tanaka), Philip Chan (Inspector Chen), Pierre Rafini (Young Frank), Bolo Yeung (Chong Li) and Ken Siu (Victor Lin).


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Universal Soldier (1992, Roland Emmerich)

Universal Soldier is nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. The beginning is exceptionally painful, as Roland Emmerich does a Platoon impression. As bad as Charlie Sheen was in that film, however, nothing compares to Jean-Claude Van Damme as a farm boy from Louisiana or Dolph Lundgren’s attempts at conveying insanity. It’s painful.

And then it gets jokey.

It’s horrific.

But then, even with the incompetent writing, Ally Walker shows up and essentially saved my hour and forty minutes. Walker’s a decent actor, but her intrepid reporter somehow makes the ludicrous plot sound feasible (Walker does have a great voice).

The film’s concept is basically a mix of Robocop and Terminator, but done in such a way to be uninventive (Van Damme and Lundgren aren’t robots, so no neat cyborg moments) and cheap. Emmerich’s a terrible fight scene director and his action scenes, instead of relishing their absurdity and amplifying it to the extreme, are dull. And it’s still frequently impossible to know what’s going on.

But the movie’s watchable–there’s a bunch of good dumb bits, like Van Damme bare-assing it around a motel parking lot or the inexplicable scene with him beating up an entire diner. Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin have made careers out of going as cheap as possible for a positive audience reaction and Universal Soldier is no different.

Walker tempers the whole thing and Van Damme’s bad acting isn’t static. He has a couple scenes where he’s not atrocious. It’s amazing, given their wooden acting, neither he nor Lundgren can successfully stare absent-minded as the brainwashed super-soldiers. Jerry Orbach, pre-“Law & Order” legitimacy, has a small role and is silly. Not all of it’s his fault; the script’s just terrible.

Lundgren’s particularly awful for much of the movie, then all of a sudden he becomes hilarious. Once he gets his mind back (again, the script doesn’t make any sense), he’s having a ball. His performance in the movie’s second half suggests he should have done comedy.

The movie’s crap, but manages not to be too offensive throughout, only in parts. And I suppose it’s somewhat impressive how good Emmerich made a moderately budgeted production look.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch and Dean Devlin; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Michael J. Duthie; music by Christopher Franke; produced by Allen Shapiro, Craig Baumgarten and Joel B. Michaels; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Luc Deveraux), Dolph Lundgren (Andrew Scott), Ally Walker (Veronica Roberts), Ed O’Ross (Colonel Perry), Jerry Orbach (Dr. Christopher Gregor) and Leon Rippy (Woodward).


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