Peace Arch Entertainment // 2008 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // April 13th, 2009
The biggest fight of his life.
We've seen a number of aging stars trying to come to terms with their own mortality in the past few years. Jean-Claude Van Damme is going along for the ride, with this quasi-semi-autobiographical romp that is, surprisingly, a really solid little thriller that is willing to grapple with big issues as well.
During an ugly custody battle for his daughter, Jean-Claude Van Damme decides to take a trip back to Brussels to take stock of his life. He is having a hard time getting movie deals, he's not as rich as people expect he would be, and just when it looks like things couldn't get any worse, he lands in the middle of a bank heist.
The police and the media arrive quickly, believing that Jean-Claude Van Damme is responsible for the heist. It's unclear, though, whether he is the hero that he has always portrayed or something much worse.
It's hard to expect too much from JCVD when you consider the status of Jean-Claude Van Damme's career lately. It's been a decade since he's been in a film that's received any real attention. In many ways, he's become a joke. He's a former martial artist, but he's never been considered a good actor, because he's never delivered a particularly good performance. Realistically, even his best movies aren't that great.
What I love about JCVD is that it isn't Jean-Claude Van Damme trying to relive his glory days. Instead, it creates a fictional world with a completely plausible version of everyone's favorite Belgian martial artist. There is a blurred line between what is real about him and what is part of the fiction of the story, and it makes the movie really fun. I don't know whether or not Jean-Claude Van Damme has had custody battles for his children, or how likely it would be for him to return to Brussels to try and find himself again. For my part, it really doesn't matter. When you look at Jean-Claude Van Damme's career, it's easy to imagine that he is just like this.
At the same time, it's always clear that this is not designed to be a serious attempt to climb into Van Damme's head. It is also a finely crafted film, and playful in its approach. Van Damme has a fabulous monologue, which is worth the price of admission alone, where he actually steps outside of the set for a moment, discussing what it's like to be a washed-up star. The main bank robber is designed to look exactly like John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon and there is a great moment when Van Damme loses a movie deal to Steven Seagal, both of which are playful reminders that this is not real.
Serious fans of Jean-Claude Van Damme might be disappointed with JCVD, as it really isn't a vehicle for the star. At the same time, it is a work of greater entertainment and significance than anything I've seen from him before. It's an entertaining heist movie, a fascinating study of celebrity, and an exploration of what happens to the B-list stars who don't end up on Hollywood Squares. Add to that the fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme finally demonstrates that he can act, and this is a film that shouldn't be missed.
The Blu-Ray disc definitely provides a good package for this delightful little film. The whole thing is shot in deep, grainy sepia tones, which are rendered perfectly in 1080p. The black level is excellent, and while some detail gets lost to shadow, it's due to the cinematography, not the transfer. The sound is also fine, and we get a choice between the theatrical recording that blends French and English, as well as a track in each of those languages. Unfortunately, these transfers are all in standard Dolby 5.1 surround, but there is little action here that would benefit strongly from a lossless transfer. All we get in the way of extras is a collection of deleted scenes, but the transfer makes the Blu-Ray worth consideration.
While I haven't yet seen The Wrestler, I suspect that JCVD may make a good companion piece. It's also a fictional film about an aging star that is fictional yet rings strangely true, and could just be an opportunity for that star's career resurrection. Whether or not you're a fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme, this is an impressive film that deserves serious attention. Don't miss it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Peace Arch Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site