JCVD (2008, Director: Mabrouk El Mechri): At just 47 years-old, Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD) is look­ing really old and tired. He’s a fad­ing action hero like Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal. What could be a bet­ter way to get back in the spot­light than make a film about your­self, warts and all? It worked for Pauly Shore, sort of.

Van Damme plays him­self in this action-com­edy. He walks into a bank rob­bery and gets taken host­age with sev­eral oth­ers. The police mis­takenly believe that Van Damme has gone over the edge and that he alone is behind the rob­bery and host­age-tak­ing.

This isn’t your typ­ical Van Damme action film. Instead, it exam­ines the nature of fame. It shows how false the notion of celebrity can be. The host­age crisis shows Jean-Claude to be a reg­u­lar guy who fears for his life in a dan­ger­ous situ­ation. He may be a fam­ous Belgian movie star, but he’s also in the middle of a child cus­tody battle, broke, and los­ing movie roles to that damn Steven Seagal.

All of this leads up to a bizarre mono­logue whereby Van Damme looks dir­ectly at the cam­era and pours out his soul for 9 minutes. I’ve never seen any­thing like it, but the scene abso­lutely works. At the Q&A after the film, dir­ector Mabrouk El Mechri revealed that this entire scene was kept secret from the crew until the moment of shoot­ing.

A lot of the scenes in JCVD were impro­vised. El Mechri had a script but quite often let the act­ors come up with their own dia­logue. The res­ults are very funny and in El Mechri’s words, “bet­ter than the dia­logue [he] came up with.”

This film gen­er­ated a lot of buzz at Cannes which is sure to con­tinue after the screen­ings in Toronto. Tonight’s crowd at the Ryerson Theatre loved the film and it was a great way to kick off the Midnight Madness pro­gram at TIFF ’08.

I found the film to be unique and quite enjoy­able des­pite the com­par­is­ons to Being John Malkovich (1999). If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the “Muscles from Brussels” then JCVD is your answer.

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One Response to JCVD

  1. Very curi­ous about this one ever since I saw it in the lineup. Glad one of y’all saw it, and am even more curi­ous now. Thanks for the review, Jay!

    PS: I miss Toronto. Gotta get back to the fest someday.

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