November 6, 2008


JCVD "Shown in the market last May at Cannes, Jean-Claude Van Damme's JCVD garnered a surprise critical cult," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Audiences, midnight or otherwise, may never warm to this low-budget whatzit, but Van Damme's self-reflexive turn gave movie journalists plenty to mull over. Had Belgium's contribution to international kick-sock-pow cinema been hanging out with Belgium's most famous filmmakers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne? Or pondering the paintings of René Magritte?"

Updated through 11/8.

"[I]n JCVD, Jean-Claude doesn't play an Iraq war vet named Phillip Sauvage, or a border patrol agent named Jack Robideaux, or even a NATO operative named Jacques Kristoff," explains Grady Hendrix in Slate. "Instead, he plays a washed-up, B-list action-movie star named Jean-Claude Van Damme.... While the movie is a dizzying meta-maze, JCVD also follows the Van Damme formula: An underdog with a ridiculous name must overcome incredible odds to kick people in the face and save the day. And in JCVD, the onetime action star with a ridiculous name does save the day (in a manner of speaking), kick people in the face (in a manner of speaking), and overcome incredible odds: the mess he's made of his own life."

"The fourth wall is long since broken, pecked to oblivion by a thousand winks, and there's no longer anything revelatory in acknowledging cinema as a mediated spectacle," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "Reflexivity is just a reflex, a knee-jerk, and JCVD signposts its reduction with genre-junkie inside joking and past-expiration-date curtain-raising on the nature of fame."

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore: "It takes a special brand of self-awareness and sense of humor to play yourself in a film (we're not just talking novelty cameos) - on this week's IFC News podcast, we look at other examples, from self-mythologizing hip-hop artists to self-depreciating art house stars."

Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher talks with director Mabrouk El Mechri.

Updates, 11/7: "With the star looking puffy and played out, and with so many references to his off-screen philandering and drug use, the movie bears comparison to Mickey Rourke's turn in The Wrestler, which like JCVD played the Toronto Film Festival, and which opens in the US next month," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "But JCVD is sharper, crueler, way funnier than The Wrestler. The movie is a vision of the wages of fame that's part parody, part exposé, part justification."

Dennis Lim calls up Van Damme, who's cancelled a trip to New York in order to take care of the dogs he's adopted in Bangkok. "It might be odd to think of Mr Van Damme, a veteran of steroidal exploitation cinema and a virtuoso of the bone-crunching split kick, as an old softie, but it is also perfectly consistent with the image overhaul implicit in his latest vehicle, JCVD."

Also in the New York Times, AO Scott: "[A]s a foray into self-mocking, self-aggrandizing career rehabilitation, JCVD shows some promise and holds some interest. It would hold more if Mr Van Damme were not so fundamentally lackluster a celebrity, with a string of negligible movies to his name. While the filmmakers - and the star himself - gamely make fun of this legacy of mediocrity, they cannot quite escape it."

"A decade ago, such a film would be inconceivable for a bankable star like Van Damme, but the new century has left him floundering in straight-to-DVD purgatory, and JCVD finds him in a mood to laugh it off, and in the process, perhaps reinvent himself," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Granted, there are some effective, often hilarious bits of flashback - like the DVDs and Van Damme karate moves listed as evidence against him at the custody trial - but save for a remarkable single-take monologue directly to the camera, the film's self-reflexive moments disappear. And once that happens, JCVD looks too much like the recent duds from which Van Damme hopes to extricate himself."

"No one can blame the star for wanting to test his range, except that JCVD proves he was wise to emphasize physicality over versatility," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

Update, 11/8: "Frédéric Benudis and Christophe Turpin's script is struggling so hard to be a morally ambiguous 70s Americana crime saga that A) it's really hard to figure out what's actually happening, and B) when you can figure it out, it doesn't make any sense," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "That's too bad, because Van Damme's remarkable performance - I say this in all seriousness - comes pretty close to redeeming the picture's murky and overly complicated artistic intentions."

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Posted by dwhudson at November 6, 2008 12:25 PM


playing in 3RFF, on Nov 15 2008

Posted by: RjE at November 7, 2008 1:03 PM