Theater Release: June 4, 2008 (France); November 7, 2008 (USA, limited)
DVD Release: April 28, 2009 (USA)
Language: French; English

Jean-Claude Van Damme was once an international action star. He was known as the “Muscles from Brussels”. Then a string of flops caused his career to take a nose dive. It has been 10 years since his last major theater release (1999’s Universal Solider 2). Since then Van Damme has had a string of straight-to-DVD releases. Now with his latest movie, JCVD, Van Damme hopes to make a comeback much like Mickey Rourke has done since The Wrestler.

In JCVD, Van Damme tries to show that he can act in a drama and is not just a former action star that can only throw punches and kicks. While Van Damme will probably always be remembered for his martial arts, his attempt at dramatic acting is not the worst I’ve ever seen.

Jean-Claude Van Damme plays an actor, a former superstar, who is down on his luck. He is involved in a bitter custody battle for his daughter. He is 47 years old and is still making cookie-cutter action movies. He is having major money problems. The name of this character is….Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD). Yes, Van Damme plays himself in this movie.

Van Damme is back in his native Belgium trying to get his life back on track. One day, he goes to the post office to pick up a money transfer unknowing that he has just walked right into a hostage crisis. Three thugs, played by Zinedine Soualem,  Karim Belkhadra and Jean-Francois Wolff, are trying to rob the post office and figure out a way to escape.

With Van Damme’s personal problems being public knowledge thanks to the media, when a police officer spots Van Damme pulling a shade down, he jumps to the conclusion that Van Damme is the one robbing the post office and holding everyone hostage.

When the news spreads that Jean-Claude Van Damme is robbing a post office, the area becomes a mob scene as Van-Damme fans gather to show support for their hero. It is up to Commissioner Burges (Francois Damiens) to figure out a way to end this standoff peacefully.

Director Mabrouk El Mechri keeps the action scenes to a minimum to allow Van Damme to show the world that he CAN indeed act. Van Damme is convincing as a frustrated actor, who was mega-famous at one time, but now loses out to another former action star, Steven Segal, for a role in a movie because Segal promises to cut off his signature ponytail. Now, that IS hitting rock bottom!!

While the scenarios in JCVD are not all true, some do mirror reality, which helps Van Damme tremendously in the believability of his acting. While Van Damme does a decent job taking on a serious role, let’s get real, he is not going to become the next great dramatic actor of our time. JCVD is just his way of shooting a flare into the sky to let everyone, especially Hollywood, know that “Hey! I’m still here!!!”

Karim Belkhadra almost steals away the spotlight from Van Damme with his very humorous performance as one of the thieves, who happens to be a big Van Damme fan. In one scene, Belkhadra gets Van Damme to demonstrate some of his martial arts skill by kicking a cigarette out of the mouth of one of the hostages. When Belkhadra tries to copy his idol, the results are very funny.

There is one scene that seems out of place with the rest of the movie. It is when Van Damme suddenly “floats” up towards the rafters out of the current shot and begins a monologue about his career and personal life. I was left thinking, “What the Heck?” Much of what Van Damme says does not make sense. When he is finished, he “floats” back down out of the rafters and the current scene goes on. The scene breaks up the good continuity that El Mechri has created and seemingly is there only as a way for Van Damme to get some things off his chest. 

For Van Damme fans, JCVD is probably his best movie in many, many years. While Van Damme showed some courage to step out of his action star box to tackle a different kind of role, he returns to familiar territory for his next release: Universal Solider 3 due out in 2009. Oh boy!!