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Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - JCVD

The Thin White Dude’s Reviews - JCVD
Is it just me, or does it seem fate that if a movie seems to have a bit of edge to it or something interesting factor, that there seems to be another movie lined up round the corner which is very similar to it. Last year's trend was the old shaky cam technique employed in Cloverfield et al, but starting near the end of last year, what we have been getting is quite a few movies which has been hyped as "comeback" movies for their lead stars. The Wrestler truly is the definition of that, and I stand defiant that Mickey Rourke was robbed as Best Actor at the Oscars and that it was the best movie of last year. The Wrestler was slightly autobiographical from the standpoint of Rourke being the same down-and-outer that Randy "The Ram" Robinson was. Here, with the "Jean-Claude Van Damme comeback movie," JCVD, the idea of autobiographical film is taken to a new level. In a vein not dissimilar to that of Being John Malkovich, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Jean-Claude Van Damme, a down and out actor, out of money, losing a custody battle for his child, returns home to Brussels and gets stuck in a hostage situation inside a post office. Yes, it does sound ridiculous doesn't it. To understand the film and review, there must be a bit of context here. Basically, Jean-Claude Van Damme was a big action film star for a period of around ten years from the mid-80's to the mid-90's. Then all of a sudden his career started going downhill. People just seemed sick of watching Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, Arnold Schwarzenegger et al beating everyone up. Van Damme himself became addicting to cocaine, entering a month-long rehab program but only lasting a week. Also, in terms of keeping himself prolific, all films since 1999's Universal Soldier: The Return have been straight-to-video releases, so for many, including myself, it has been a while since seeing a new Van Damme film. To start off what is good about the film, the best thing about really is the performance of Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself. While he is playing himself, he successfully transplants this onto the screen in a number of different manners, portraying the superstar, the damaged father and the man of action we are all familiar with. There is a real intelligence in this role. Also, the cinematography and editing are done rather well, particularly in the sequences in which Van Damme is starring in fictionalised movies starring the fictional-cum-autobiographical Van Damme (trust me, it get's confusing). The film's visuals work really well in the sense that the colour scheme seems to match the darkness of the piece and the darkness of Van Damme/Van Damme (sorry, I'm having too much fun). I think that the film is interesting and will bring itself up to a cult movie status much like that of Being John Malkovich. However, this is definitely a far more flawed film than that other "actor playing fictional/autobiographical version of himself" film (just get a dictionary, seriously). The main problem about JCVD really is the fact that the film itself really does hang on the shoulders of Van Damme. To use a metaphor, (real) Van Damme is effectively forced to hold the weight of world on his shoulders, because bar the film's obvious visual flair, it doesn't have much else going for it. The screenplay is rather dire, creating a story that is actually rather more focused on intelligence and wit over story itself. The film-makers do genuinely seem to be thinking that they can just let everything else go and let Van Damme as himself work his magic, because "we know he can't act, here, he doesn't have to act, he can be himself." No, stop. Van Damme was never an Oscar-winning actor, but he was a very charismatic and enjoyable action film star. Here, actually flexing both acting muscles as well as his own, it seems rather an insult that he signs on to such a personal project and that the rest of the crew cannot back him up. Once again, the screenplay is poor, but not only that, the director of the film Mabrouk El Mechri has gained much of the acclaim for the film. I personally do not feel he is worthy of the acclaim for this film. Granted, there is pace and style, but with regards to the "art-house" material, he shows a great degree of incompetence. To write in conclusion, JCVD is not as bad I make it sound with the negatives. It's just the fact that there are so many negatives which Van Damme has to battle through to make his performance work. There are times in which the film does escape mediocrity and there is genuine emotion involved, particularly in the scenes involving Van Damme and his "daughter" and his six-minute "confession" scene. And so for this, granted, the direction is incompetent and the script is rather poor, but it must said that the strong visual style and top performance by Jean-Claude Van Damme in blurring the lines between reality and fiction in this rather personal performance elevate this film from potential mediocrity and make it an oddity which will surely become a cult classic.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.9/10

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