I went into J.C.V.D with all the prepubescent memories of the action heroes of yesteryear; nostalgic roundhouse kicks, horrible dialogue, overdone explosions, one-liners and all. A time where the movie industry churned out the same movie a hundred different ways with the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stalone, and Van Damme in the spotlight. These action movies seem set aside from Hollywood history, not as bad films per say but as their own separate entity where critics and nay-sayers alike had no power to quell the insatiable appetite of young movie goers. A time where this trinity of subpar actors ruled the box offices with their muscles and gun toting charisma. Not that I was expecting J.C.V.D to be one of these films, but it is almost impossible not to be reminded of the better days of mindless entertainment when the film's title is the initials of the King of High Kicking, Jean Claude Van Damme. I was expecting something I have never seen before, something of a reinvention of an American, French, or more importantly, world icon. Which is exactly what I got.
J.C.V.D. is not a Jean Claude Van Damme movie whatsoever, no more than its namesake. There are no drawn out fight scenes, no car chases, and certainly no bad one-liners. Instead, the film is a hybrid, a meta-film, going beyond documentary, mocumentary, or full blown narrative. If I were to categorize it as anything, it would be a documentary of a mocumentary since it isn't afraid to break the fourth wall and does so on many occasions. The narrative is broken up, flipping back and forth if not only for the element of short lived mystery. It is not a character study since Van Damme is almost too well known for that, rather it is reenactment of his life dramatized for Hollywood. It doesn't matter if the story is true or not, the important thing is that Van Damme makes it real. Obviously drawing from his real life experiences, he pours his heart into his cinematic counterpart and proves to the world that he can flex his acting muscles just as well as he can flex his biceps, if not better now in his old age. Van Damme humanizes himself in a way that we have never seen. In a power and telling scene where Van Damme literally is lifted above the fourth wall, he explains to the camera his inglorious life and career, full or mistakes, drugs, and heartbreak. It brings a heart to those action films of yesteryear, of a past where things were simpler and a present where retrospection, as well as introspection, only leads to heartache.
This film speaks about the power of the celebrity and the quick to judge public. It brings to light the blood thirsty court system once it has a celebrity to make it famous. And it shows that not all of these superstars are the personalities we see on film. That they are normal people thrust into extraordinary situations with nothing to do but buckle under the pressure of the public. But beyond the serious nature of J.C.V.D. there are plenty of easter eggs to be found for those pure action fan boys. References to all of his previous work and signature high kicks are spread throughout the film that give it it's humor while the performances and solid writing attribute to many laughs as well.
The opening sequence of J.C.V.D. perfectly captures the message it is broadcasting to our time. It features an action sequence where Van Damme is out of breath and sloppily taking out soldiers while the stunt men and actors alike exhibit their heartless effort for a pay check in the film industry while the director throws darts at a picture of Hollywood. It lacks all the magic of his work while accentuating the cheesiness to a point where the fake film is a mirror image of the action industry today. And as Van Damme tries to catch his breath and lobby for a better film, he can only walk away in disgust of what his beloved career has become. J.C.V.D. is a film that knows what it is and what it is trying to say. Yet it somehow goes beyond that to become something more. It breaks down and then raises up one of the most famous action stars of all time only to show him in one of his best roles. Himself. It is not a tribute to those days gone by where I would rent six Van Damme movies and watch the rest of the afternoon away, it is more. It is a fun, funny, entertaining, and a damn good film. One thing is for sure, I will never look at Van Damme the same way again, and that is a great thing.