The best thing in JCVD might just be its open. In a single take that's meant to dazzle like the opening of Orson Welles' A Touch of Evil, JCVD sets its tone. The shot may be designed as a stylish flourish but it plays out instead as a wicked parody. As Van Damme battles through a series of enemies, stunts don't go off quite as planned, and he even pauses at one point to catch his breath. When the ill-executed scenes comes to an end, Van Damme confronts his snot-nosed young director who doesn't seem to care because he seems to think he's condescended to accept this action assignment.
When the film takes aim at Hollywood and the filmmaking process, it's dead on. In fact sometimes it feels painfully accurate as when Van Damme meets with his agent to discuss his limited opportunities as an aging action star. Writer-director Mabrouk El Mechri nails the film industry satire - from agents to devoted fans to celebrity trials. There's a brilliant bit of dissection about John Woo's career trajectory after Van Damme brought the Hong Kong action director to the U.S. (Van Damme actually gave Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam their first shots at English language action films.) But his film runs into trouble when he decides to let the film become the kind of direct-to-DVD action flick that he's trying to spoof.
Jean-Claude Van Damme with fan (Peace Arch Entertainment)
Van Damme proves not only to be a good sport - allowing himself to be scrutinized and sometimes mocked and made pathetic - but a good actor as well. Although his mid-film monologue goes on too long and is overwritten, he delivers it well. Hopefully this film will lift him out of the direct-to-DVD hell he apparently has found himself in and will rejuvenate and reinvent his career like Jackie Brown did for Robert Forster.
JCVD (rated R for language and some violence) is half a brilliant movie and a must see for anyone who considers themselves a fan of either action films or the muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Companion viewing: Being John Malkovich, The Wrestler, High Risk (Hong Kong) , Hard Target