Not enough JCVD in JCVD
Oh, I really wanted to like this film. I wish I did. I wish it was funnier, I wish it was more exciting, interesting, entertaining. I wish it would have used its main course instead of focusing on the appetizers. I wish it had been better.
The main course, that is Jean-Claude Van Damme, playing (self-parody- version-of-) himself. In JCVD, the Belgian has got the blues; he resembles a tired dog, unable to pay his lawyer since Steven Seagal cut off his pony tail and snatched the next lead role in a direct-to-video- action film. He needs to pay this lawyer, since he’s about to loose his divorce and child custody. Life’s murky for poor Jean-Claude. He calls his fat, lazy American agent asking for jobs and money. He informs him absent mindedly about a film called No Limit Injury. ”We did that movie six months ago!” Jean-Claude informs him. Then he walks into a small bank that just happens to be held up by some ugly low life-robbers. Soon, there’s a lot of people outside the little bank. Why? Well, Jean- Claude Van Damme walks into a bank and moments later it is held up. Who do you think is holding it up?
JCVD is a film that sounds a lot better on paper than it actually is as a film. Any interesting review of the film would have to be about Van Damme himself rather than this film, because its easy to identify its flaws and shortcomings: Its simply not that engaging. The writer- director Mabrouk El Merchi has made a movie with the, by now standard, narrative framework of Tarantino about a bank robbery scenario where he puts way too much focus on the uninteresting robbers and doesn’t bring the rabbit out of the box enough many times; Jean-Claude Van Damme is one of the hostages. The people on the outside think he’s holding the bank up. Well, do something then! Humor me! I’m not asking for Jean- Claude to be Chevy Chase, but I don’t care about these murky robbers whining and arguing until you want to just ask one of the hostages to sneak out the back door. Van Damme is the main reason anyone would want to see this film and yet this film, called JCVD, lets him share the screen time with ugly muggers that aren’t realistic or engaging, and make no sense.
In scenes surrounding the bank scenes, we get amusing depictions of Jean-Claude Van Damme being down in the dumps but there’s not enough of them. The defining point of the film’s failure comes when Jean-Claude suddenly is lifted out of the action, from the film even, and gives a five minute monologue straight to the audience. It’s awkward but its extremely sincere and it suddenly raises the bar for this film in a way even I did not suspect to begin with. ”Today I pray to God” he sobs. ”I truly believe it’s not a movie. It’s real life”.
I mean, that’s just amazing! Contrary to belief, Jean-Claude Van Damme isn’t that big of a has-been as, say, Steven Seagal. All’s relative. While his films have become all the cheaper, some more or less straight to video, they have at least been quite hard boiled and Jean-Claude has obviously tried to make honest acting attempts. Take a film like In Hell for instance, a prison movie-knock off where he’s alone against the tyranny of an entire prison, wardens and inmates alike. Right, it ain’t Kafka, but it’s more than being a Universal Soldier or, cough cough, a ”street fighter”. The same goes with Wake of Death, a simple revenge film where he’s to take down the people who killed his girlfriend. There’s no doves in that film. But as QT would have preferred it, revenge is served very, very cold.
I guess its no surprise that I’m a shameless admirer of Jean-Claude. He is both hilarious and charming, and in some strange way sincere and er, ”aware” of himself. You’d want to see a lot of it in a film called JCVD and the bits and pieces you get here and there during 90 minutes isn’t enough. The five minute monologue he says ”It’s so stupid to kill people. They’re so beautiful!” It’s the film’s big exception that proves the rule.
In fact, I’m going to make it easy on you. Here’s the six minutes of the film that is truly unmissable. I’m thinking of it as a gesture of consumer friendliness.