Mabrouk El Mechri | 2008 | 96 min | Belgium, France
Imagine Jean-Claude Van Damme starring in a seventies Sidney Lumet crime film. Now imagine that Van Damme is excellent in this film. Try very, very hard. Got it? That's JCVD. For reals.
JCVD is essentially about a desperate man trapped in a heist gone wrong. That desperate man happens to be action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, played by the man himself. Perhaps interesting enough on its own, but on top of that premise director Mabrouk El Mechri layers material about Van Damme's custody battle with his wife, his financial troubles, and the nature of (fading) celebrity. The final product is as interesting an homage to fame you will get outside of Being John Malkovich.
There are plenty of mentions of Van Damme's drug use, his problems with women, his troubled past with his family, and his position as Belgium's only export to Hollywood. At times JCVD is very personal and as El Mechri stated at the screening, there is no way this film would have the same weight with any other star.
Van Damme is playing "himself" but it is a slightly fictionalized version, due in part to the intervention of lawyers and in part to Van Damme's need for some degree of privacy and separation. However, El Mechri does a wonderful job weaving in and out of the real and fictional lives to create a film that is highly entertaining and surprisingly moving. At one point Van Damme delivers a lengthy, one-take monologue that will surprise a lot of viewers.
Though it suffers a bit from numerous flashbacks and perspectives which unnecessarily repeat some information, for the most part JCVD is taut and striking, both visually and textually. This feature may be a bit too in-jokey for everyone to enjoy, but El Mechri will most definitely be delivering some great films in the future.