JCVD is a film that slightly dramatizes Van Damme's life and tries to tell a compelling fictional story at the same time. Obviously, the parts concerning the real Van Damme are the most interesting, but the story has it's moments, unorigional as they may be, as well. The movie starts off with a great action scene done in the form of a long take akin to Children of Men. Van Damme shoots and fights his way through a small war, only to have the take ruined by poor set construction. He converses with the director (through a translator) about how he's too old to do it all in one take and that it simply isn't working. He walks off in frustration. We then get to see that Van Damme is going through a tough custody battle that is draining his bank account. On top of that, he just lost a promising new role to Steven Seagal (who won the part because he agreed to cut off his ponytail). So Van Damme decides to go back to his homeland of Belgium to get his life back together. While at a post office/bank (they call it both during the film, I guess things are a bit different in Belgium), he gets caught up in a heist that the police think he is running.
All of this causes Van Damme to reflect on his life. He looks miserable (just look at the poster), and he apparently feels awful, as well. He wants to be the hero he is in the movies, but he also wants to be a normal guy. He's quick to try to help out a hostage, but he is reluctant to display his kicking ability for his captor (which is a funny scene, by the way). It's kind of complicated and that's what makes it great. JCVD is not about making fun of the man. Sure, there are some cheap shots about his current career that lead to some laughs, but there are also many scenes in which you start to feel for the guy. He made mistakes, sure, but he deserves to be more than a punchline these days. This all leads up to a fourth wall shattering soliloquy in which Van Damme bares his soul directly at the camera. It's an amazing speech (even if you have to read it, as most of the film is in French) and, along with the opening scene, it makes this film great. Sure, the heist stuff seems to blatantly rip off Dog Day Afternoon (some have said the villain is a John Cazale lookalike) and the score resembles the music from Inside Man, but Van Damme's performance elevates the film above the status of a rip off.
Do I sound biased? I'm sure it seems that way, but give this movie a chance. I bought this the other day and, while browsing other DVDs, a couple of guys were reading the plot on the back of the case, laughing. "Is this a joke?" one of them asked. I'm afraid the common Wal-Mart shopper will think that. But get past the synopsis from the DVD case (which does make the movie sound like more a typical Van Damme action movie), and accept this movie for what it is: a look into an aging, nearly forgotten action star who can do more than kick and shoot his way back to his kidnapped (wife, child, brother, et cetera). Van Damme is easy to poke fun at; his action movies don't really display any acting craft, he's played doubles in his movies five times (five!), and he hasn't been in a theatrical release for nearly a decade. But he deserves to be back in theaters. As an action star? Maybe. Better yet, let this man show some emotion, because he has proven that he is more than capable in this intelligent, funny, heartbreaking film.
Next: Wolverine and the Crappy Cage trilogy (8MM, Snake Eyes, and The Wicker Man)