Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here.
By now, you most likely know what this is, and wheter or not you’re interested in it. I’m thrilled Vern got a chance to check it out, though, and if there’s any review of it I’ve been waiting to read, it’s this one.
This is one of those things that almost seems too good to really exist. Did a talented French director really convince Jean-Claude Van Damme to play himself in an arty hostage thriller, giving him his best production values in years, one of his best movies, and definitely the best acting performance and most personal artistic expression of his career (so far)? Okay, I can believe somebody would come up with the idea, I can sort of believe Van Damme would be interested, but it’s hard to believe that they really found the money, really made it, really executed it this good. 2008, I love you.
This is the story of Jean-Claude Van Damme (Jean-Claude Van Damme), an action star getting too old to do long takes and depressed because he’s in a losing battle for custody of his daughter. The worst part: his daughter says she doesn’t want to live with him because everybody makes fun of her every time he’s on TV.
Jean-Claude goes home to Brussels, where he plans to stay with his parents and get his life back together. But he needs to get some money to send to his lawyers and just happens to choose a bank that’s in the middle of being robbed. So the thieves take him hostage, but instead of seeing him as a threat like they might in most action movies they just think this is surreal – holy shit, that’s Jean-Claude Van Damme! One guy in particular is excited and gets him to kick a cigarette out of a guy’s mouth. I mean, what would you do if you had Jean-Claude Van Damme hostage? I wonder why he didn’t try to get him to do the splits on a wall like he did in CYBORG?
The feel is more art movie than Van Damme, at times it’s even kind of pretentious, which you gotta kind of appreciate in a Van Damme movie. Never thought you’d be able to accuse him of being pretentious. The storytelling is very confident, bordering on cocky, some good non-linear tricks and unfolding the story from different perspectives. The soundtrack is nice and soulful, lots of horns used in the score, a throwback to action movies from the pre-Van Damme era.
As you’ve probaly seen or heard, Van Damme is mistaken as the one robbing the bank, and a crowd forms outside to cheer him on. I’m not sure what this DOG DAY AFTERNOON element of the story is supposed to be saying exactly, but it shows how despite the “washed up” status of a guy like Van Damme there are still people who want to root for him. It might be harder to find them here in the US but I completely believe that he is a hero in Belgium as “the guy who left this shithole” as they say in the movie. And that’s exactly what makes this a great movie for Van Damme: it’s one that only he could’ve ever done. As you know I’m more into the Seagal pictures than the Van Dammes, but that’s the reason why: he developed his own style, he made his movies personal and weird, he made movies that couldn’t have really been recast as Van Damme movies or done legit with Matt Damon or somebody.
And now Van Damme has done that in spades. The movie is fun because of this idea of seeing the life of an aging action star, but the things that really make it great are specific to his life and his movie persona. I don’t think he’s really had a custody battle, but everything else pretty much comes from his life. There’s a great scene that almost seems like it could’ve come from a documentary where he argues with his agent about the movies he’s up for. He can get lots of money but he can’t get a role that makes him happy – he wants to take less money for a studio role (he supposedly did JCVD for free).
The part that surprised me most (SPOILER) almost seems like a gimmick out of a Spike Lee movie: suddenly Van Damme floats up above the bank, showing that it’s a set. He looks directly into the camera and for several minutes does a heartfelt monologue talking to his fans about his career, his womanizing, his drug problems, his love of karate. Now, alot of non-action fans will claim this is Van Damme’s first real acting performance. If you’ve watched a bunch of his DTV shit though you know he’s been trying, for example he was good as a junkie scumbag in UNTIL DEATH. But this is a better movie and a better performance. It turns out he’s way more likable when speaking in his native tongue and (I’m guessing) getting to improvise more. And you know what, I knew Van Damme wanted to be a real actor but I didn’t know he’d get the chance to do a monologue about not feeling he deserves his success. I didn’t think I’d see him cry real tears on film. He even talks about things in his personal life I never knew he got shit about. Some of his defenses aren’t exactly convincing, but the fact that he’s baring his soul like that puts you on his side.
Holy shit, this is a real movie! They really made this!
This is a miracle of a movie but to be honest I don’t think it’s the action fan’s dream you might expect. There’s only one serious action sequence, the classic opening set to Baby Huey’s “Hard Times.” Van Damme is filming a war movie and it’s a CHILDREN OF MEN style continuous shot. Man, I only wish he was doing movies like that these days. The only thing that shot has in common with his real movies is the crappy skipped frames and the director who doesn’t seem to be paying attention.
There’s a scene where a lawyer lists off acts of violence in Van Damme’s movies – hopefully somebody who knows his filmography better than me can tell me if those are specific references or not. But I don’t get the impression director Mabrouk El Mechri has an undying love for action genre, just a European’s admiration for Van Damme. In the movie Van Damme talks about his movies with embarrassment, the fictional movies they mention don’t seem very believable, and my apologies but it is my duty as the author of SEAGALOGY to point out that the Seagal running joke doesn’t make sense (it has to do with him cutting off his ponytail for the first time, but he doesn’t actually have one in many movies including some of the more iconic ones like UNDER SIEGE and ABOVE THE LAW.) There’s some funny discussion of John Woo, which I loved, but it made me wonder if El Mechri would only admit to watching a John Woo movie and not, say, a Sheldon Lettich.
I don’t really take offense though because the movie clearly presents Van Damme as an underdog character for you to root for, and I respect that it’s not a comedy. The laughs it gets out of worshipful fans are relatable, not mean-spirited. You get a kick out of seeing some dudes from a video store freak out over seeing Van Damme cross the street. Shit, that’s how I felt when I saw Seagal playing guitar. But it’s too bad El Mechri isn’t more of an action fanatic, because the one thing that would take this from an A to an A+ would be a kickass action setpiece at the climax. We’ve seen what he did on the set, we’ve seen the cigarette trick, and after the monologue we know what he has to prove to himself. It’s the perfect setup for the mechanics of a serious action movie to kick in. And then they don’t.
But oh well, this is still a very unique and entertaining movie and I’m thankful for its unlikely existence.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/39221
View the archived Ain’t-It-Cool-News Talkback
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:09 p.m. CST
Sounds really cool
Looking forward to it.
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:13 p.m. CST
Can’t wait for this one.
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:15 p.m. CST
I’ve been waiting for this review.
by Gwai Lo
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:30 p.m. CST
why a Mori article for a Vern review?
by the milf lover
doesnt really make sense… <p>
other than that, I dont care to see this but nice review.
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:32 p.m. CST
JCVD sounds like a new movie disc format not a movie title
so is this this movie serious? or is it a movie making fun of JCVD movies? I’ll pass,although sounds like an original concept
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:33 p.m. CST
I really want to see this
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:42 p.m. CST
How To Review
Try stay on fucking topic for a full paragraph when discussing a movie. Seriously AICN, take some ritalin before you touch the keyboard.
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:50 p.m. CST
JCVD kicking Iceburg’s ass was artsy
by Hikaru Ichijo
He should come back to town and pour a ten gallon drum of Whoop-Ass on Steely McBeam. Sports mascots have no place in Pittsburgh.
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:51 p.m. CST
Saw it 3 days ago
Here in NYC, it’s showing in the Village East in East Village (duh!). <p> The movie kicked my ass, didn’t expect to enjoy it this much. Van Damme actually gives a great and heartbreaking performance. <p> It’s one of the best films I saw so far this year, and I wonder if the academy has the balls to consider it for the best foreign film Oscar.
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:55 p.m. CST
Face it Van Damme. Fame is fleeting.
I just saw it over the weenkend and I would say it was good except for all the parts where Jean Claude is obviously blaming Hollywood. The discussion about John Woo I’ve heard before from Jean Clade’s mouth. So that’s his personal feelings not the director’s. Why would he be so upset at John Woo when he takes a shot at Windtalkers as an example of how bad of a director he is. YOu can say John Woo experienced the same thing in his experience with Hollywood yet you don’t see Woo complaining to the public about it. Woo obviously has always been a bad director so why so upset at John Woo? The movie would’ve been great if JCVD made fun of himself instead of using it to complain about Hollywood.
Nov. 24, 2008, 9:04 p.m. CST
err, wait….NO action?!! WTF?!!
wake me when “MY NAME IS BRUCE” hits dvd.
Nov. 24, 2008, 9:07 p.m. CST
Jean Claude Van Damme is a shitty actor and all of his movies su
Which is exactly why I want to see JVCD. I have hated every Van Damme movie I have seen – I find them and the characters he plays as stupid, juvenile and just plain retarded. But I will give him props for making a film that I can’t wait to see. <p>
Whether you like his movies or hate them (and I am obviously on the hate side) there is much to be admired about a man so willing to go out on a limb and mock his image and himself. I mean, how people do you know who were or are stars are willing to go out there and say, “Yeah, I made some bad career decisions and I am now pretty much a joke”. Sure, Sly has made fun of himself but only half-heartedly – he never has done anything that resembles this mea culpa. And could you ever imagine Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal or even Jason Stratham willing to poke fun or tarnish his own images as much as this guy has with this movie. Hell, Seagal won’t even try acting – he’s been playing the same part in all his movies. <p>
Besides, Van Damme seems like the cooler guy. Sure, he has done some douchebag stuff in the past (just ask Chuck Zito or Dolph Lundgren) but nothing compared to Seagal. Out here in Hollywood one of the best gigs is director for a Seagal movie. The bond companies won’t let Seagal direct so they have to hire a director who gets a guaranteed 10 weeks worth of pay. Come around week 3 or 4 Seagal finds a reason to fire him and take over production, and that director gets 6 or 7 weeks of paid vacation. I have heard of directors planning vacation by week 6 of production. Plus there is also that Gene Lebell story involving Seagal.
Nov. 24, 2008, 9:17 p.m. CST
Someone give this movie to Neill Cumpston
We all need to hear what he has to say.
Nov. 24, 2008, 9:57 p.m. CST
More interested in Lundgren’s COMMAND PERFORMANCE!
by Stuntcock Mike
I’ll check this one out though.
Nov. 24, 2008, 9:58 p.m. CST
And what’s with the Dingbat Stacy London’s ad
by Stuntcock Mike
on our beloved site?
Nov. 24, 2008, 10:07 p.m. CST
They should make a movie
by Mr. Lahey
about Chuck Zito knocking JCVD the fuck out. Google it if you’re unfamiliar. Brings a tear to my eye everytime.
Nov. 24, 2008, 11:08 p.m. CST
Bad Review, Good Movie…
by Mr. N
…Why talk about what a movie should do? It’s only what it is. I agree that making suggestions is fine and dandy but this movie was surprising, emotive and beautiful (though the washed-out look was overdone and made some subtitles hard to read). Vern, you take away from it by imagining your own ending. This is the most unique movie I’ve seen covering Hollywood in any way, shape or form. Love it for that, not what it could be.
Nov. 24, 2008, 11:38 p.m. CST
Mickey Rourke and Van Damme prove they can actually act! I lived in Bruxelles for a year and (a) it is a shithole, and (b) those folks sure do love them some JCVD – everyone I met mentioned him at some point. Dissapointed I never ran into him on the street. Of course, he was probably in the US making some piece of shit.
Nov. 25, 2008, 12:24 a.m. CST
When the hell can i see it?
i cant find it anywhere around me or online. this blows!!!
Nov. 25, 2008, 12:41 a.m. CST
Yeah, he doesn’t kick ass at the end?
I figured at the end they’d give him a big action scene to kick everyone’s ass in. I’m kind of dissapointed now…
Nov. 25, 2008, 2:33 a.m. CST
Sounds nice but AVATAR will be fucking our eyeballs in 2009!!!
by Motoko Kusanagi
And nothing else matters.<p>Kudos to JCVD though.
Nov. 25, 2008, 3:18 a.m. CST
HELLKING: Was that a typo or did you really mean to say “John Woo has obviously always been a bad director”? Did you not scroll down far enough on IMDB to get to THE KILLER, BULLET IN THE HEAD and fucking HARD BOILED? You need some serious re-evaluating there. I didn’t take the John Woo jokes as a serious attack. It was just something people kept saying to Van Damme, giving him credit for bringing John Woo to the US. (Which is actually a bad thing because it ruined Woo’s movies.) Van Damme’s character even stands up for Woo by saying “At least he did FACE/OFF.” I liked the Woo jokes because I agreed – Van Damme did kind of bring Woo to the US, FACE/OFF *was* good, WINDTALKERS *is* terrible.<p>
MR. N: What do you mean? I loved the movie, I never grade movies but in this case I said it was an A. I discussed the lack of true action movie love because it’s my area of expertise and because writers who are not as into the genre have been portraying it like a love letter to action fans. I do think that would’ve made it even better but I think I made it clear that I loved it. Just like I know you loved it even though you criticized the photography and subtitles in your post.<p>
Nov. 25, 2008, 3:28 a.m. CST
Great review, Vern, but…
I’ve gotta disagree with you about the ending. Personally, if they’d ended the movie with a big action sequence, I would have been disappointed. One of the things I really like about the movie is that they put Van Damme in this action movie scenario, the classic bank robbery/hostage thing, but they had him deal with it like a regular person instead of an action star. He saves some people, and he gets to use his martial arts skills, but he’s mostly just doing what anybody would try to do in that situation.
Nov. 25, 2008, 3:31 a.m. CST
I don’t know who you are, but I will take you at your word that your way of reviewing movies is better than mine. If I could ask you a favor bud please send me a detailed explanation of all the great ideas you have about how bad my paragraphs are and how I can “try stay on fucking topic.” I would absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE your wise advice and I am literally begging you for more. Thank you soooo much for helping me out with this man you don’t know how much it means to me, my family and to this whole community and proud nation. Especially in this day and age it is real hard to get some anonymous knowitall on the internet to send you vague, unsolicited criticism, especially in the prickish tone that you have so generously donated. It brings tears to my eyes to find such a selfless and, I must say, courageous and downright heroic master of the written arts as you to swoop down and rescue me from the tyranny of the writing style I have developed over many years. So you are doing me a HUGE favor on this one I owe you BIG TIME buddy. thanks in advance.<p>
with the sincerest gratitude imaginable,<p>
your friend for always and ever,<p> in your debt, I love you, you have changed my life and the life of thousands like me,<p> Vern.<p>
p.s. go ahead and rewrite this post for me also since you would do it way better.
Nov. 25, 2008, 3:37 a.m. CST
I don’t know. The tone of the movie to me doesn’t play as realistic, even if it is more realistic than HARD TARGET. I don’t think the way the movie does end is realistic at all, but I like the fantasy idea of how this particular place I won’t name is a way for him to be away from Hollywood and get his life back together. And the tone of the movie even from the opening scene is pretty cartoonish and exaggerated. That’s why I didn’t think an action scene would be out of place. But I see your point and you may be right.
Nov. 25, 2008, 4:59 a.m. CST
Geemenblue, here is Neill Cumpston’s review:
Blabla shit fuck pussypussypussy popculture popculture pussy fuckfuckfuckfuck popculture popculture popculture pussy fuck shit blablabla pussy blabla shit fuck bla popculture pussy.
Nov. 25, 2008, 7:16 a.m. CST
Mickey Rourke and Van Damme
should team up after their big encores as washed up has beens and make an action movie that will not only be a return to what the genre used to be, but while itself revealing honest human drama with cries for success. Directed by Sylvester Stallone, produced by Darren Aronofsky, cameo appearance by soon to be reality host/sheriff Steven Seagal and occasional action packed scenes featuring bowflex texas ranger chuck norris! choreographed by thailand stuntmen
THE EXPENDABLES, fucking your eyeballs and michael bay right after AVATAR is done with 2009
Nov. 25, 2008, 7:26 a.m. CST
Saw it a couple of weeks ago
by Drunken Rage
And thought it was very good. One thing that’s annoying as hell, though, is the hot lighting that is in every interior shot. I’m not sure what the hell that was supposed to mean or do, but it was very stylized and very garish and very, very annoying. I took a friend to see it who has never seen a JCVD (or Seagal, for that matter) movie and she enjoyed it for what it was, regardless of the movie’s meta-criticism and self-reference. I’ll see it again– and Vern, you’re right, the scene with his agent is terrific.
Nov. 25, 2008, 7:37 a.m. CST
by just pillow talk
Nov. 25, 2008, 7:39 a.m. CST
America didn’t ruin John Woo
by Spandau Belly
He just tried to get out of his signature style and do regular WW2 and cookie cutter sci-fi movies and we all realized he can’t make entertaining movies without guys diving sideways firing two giant pistols and doves etc. He’s a one trick pony, and it’s a good trick, so he should go back to doing it. But not in some goofy self-mocking way like that Shoot ‘Em Up nonsense, get him to work with Statham. John Woo’s Transporter 4 would be a welcome arrival for me.
Nov. 25, 2008, 7:39 a.m. CST
this sounds pretty interesting….
by just pillow talk
I’m glad to see Jean Claude had it in him to throw something like this up on the screen. <p>But everything pales in comparison to Cyborg. It’s true. If I recall, it was due to the phenomenal music. Phenomenal. Really.
Nov. 25, 2008, 8:01 a.m. CST
Does anyone actually DISLIKE VanDamme’s classics?
As far as I can tell, the BIGGEST problem anyone has with VanDamme (and his peers) is that they ‘don’t make ’em like they used to’…
Given that, it’s easy to see why JCVD should be able to clean up, financially speaking. Unless something drastic happens, we’re NEVER going to get to see another Kickboxer or UniSol (well… not *really*), so this film keeps the franchise name alive. We can hope that renewed interest in action stars will spur on a renaissance… but I doubt it.
Nov. 25, 2008, 8:09 a.m. CST
… and as everyone’s chiming in with a comment on the review:
Worked just fine for me Vern. When I want a considered evaluation of a movie in the global marketplace, i’ll go buy ‘Sight & Sound’ – if I want to know what someone who geeks out over similar things thinks about a movie, i’ll come here (remembering to stay away from Harry’s reviews).
Thanks for the insight Vern.
Nov. 25, 2008, 10:46 a.m. CST
One thing you must know is
that in france JCVD really had huge problems with his TV appearances (don’t know in the others countries). For years and years he made long nonsens speaches under cocaine (half in french, half in english most of the time) Everybody laughed at him, even books of his “best words” were published. So this movie was a way to redeem himself. I did not watch it when it was realised here though.
Nov. 25, 2008, 11:24 a.m. CST
holy crap, Vern
“I don’t know who you are, but I will take you at your word that your way of reviewing movies is better than mine. If I could ask you a favor bud please send me a detailed explanation of all the great ideas you have about how bad my paragraphs are and how I can “try stay on fucking topic.” I would absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE your wise advice and I am literally begging you for more. Thank you soooo much for helping me out with this man you don’t know how much it means to me, my family and to this whole community and proud nation. Especially in this day and age it is real hard to get some anonymous knowitall on the internet to send you vague, unsolicited criticism, especially in the prickish tone that you have so generously donated. It brings tears to my eyes to find such a selfless and, I must say, courageous and downright heroic master of the written arts as you to swoop down and rescue me from the tyranny of the writing style I have developed over many years. So you are doing me a HUGE favor on this one I owe you BIG TIME buddy. thanks in advance.”<p>
H E A D S H O T!
Nov. 25, 2008, 11:28 a.m. CST
regarding one comment in the review
where Vern seemed surprised at the ‘heroes welcome’ JCVD got on the streets….<p>
This street, it was in Belgium, correct? I imagine that Belgium isn’t exactly the Hollywood Boulevard of Europe, and JCVD is probably considered their First Son. IRL, I imagine he gets much the same treatment, albeit not quite as over-the-top as depicted in the movie. The tone of this film strikes me as “lampooned reality” where its mostly trying to be a reality film while taking snipe shots at reality itself at the same time.<p>
I think JCVD has a very good method when it comes to drama, but that his film choices never really allowed him to explore that. I’d love to see him in a purely dramatic role – I bet he would be awesome. He’s like the Antonio Banderas of Belgium.
Nov. 25, 2008, 12:46 p.m. CST
MAN: Thanks for posting that. The movie actually deals with that and has some crazy interviews (not sure if they’re real footage or re-enacted) but I didn’t know that history so I wasn’t sure if they just translated poorly or what the deal was. It’s good to know that was one of his problems and explains specifically what the daughter was embarrassed about.<p>
ARCADIAN: Like I mentioned in the review there’s one called UNTIL DEATH where he gets to do a pretty good performance. He’s a cop who’s hooked on heroin and hookers even though he’s married. Then he gets put in a coma, wakes up and tries to straighten his life out. The villain is played by Stephen Rea and it does have those cop movie elements but the story’s mainly about him recovering from a disability and trying to redeem himself for the things he’s done. Not a great movie but an interesting role to see him play.
Nov. 25, 2008, 2:21 p.m. CST
the x-men films…
could have been a huge comeback for JCVD in a supporting role. he would have made a perfect Gambit… didn’t anybody call him?
Nov. 25, 2008, 3:17 p.m. CST
This movie was all types of awesome.
Me and the girlfriend saw it on Saturday night. It hits every level it aims for pretty much perfectly. Works as a drama, comedy, self parody. It’s really a great film going experience. And I’m pretty sure it’s safe on my list of top 10 of the year.
Nov. 25, 2008, 3:42 p.m. CST
Vern is the best reviewer at aicn
in my humble opinion. But what everyone wants to know about JCVD, did Cletus Van Damme make a special guest appearance? Or will he have his own CVD coming out soon?
Nov. 25, 2008, 7:09 p.m. CST
CAN’T. WAIT. TO. WATCH. THIS.
Must. Watch. Now.
Where. Can. I. Watch. This?
Nov. 25, 2008, 9 p.m. CST
not an action movie, but fun and i enjoyed it alot..
.. i hope it opens up some better projects for van damme
Nov. 25, 2008, 9:02 p.m. CST
can’t wait for the remake! SNIPES!
with the tax evasion angle they’d hardly have to rewrite it!
Nov. 25, 2008, 11:16 p.m. CST
Vern, I was being sarcastic of the contradiction.
Really if Woo was as bad of director as Windtalkers as discussed in JCVD, why would he have some sort of grudge against Woo in the first place? Like I said before, I’ve heard about this take from Jean Claude about John Woo before. So that comment was a shot at John Woo for what? John Woo not giving Jean Claude a leading role in Face-Off like mentioned in the movie? John Woo probably wasn’t in a position to make that decision in the first place. Did Jean Claude expect John Woo to be indebted to him with the false assumption that he discovered John Woo before anyone else. John Woo was already bringing in the cult fans before Hard Target. Jean Claude Van Damme didn’t discover John Woo. ANd what I heard about that movie was Jean Claude’s notorious ego during the filmimg of that movie taking over the production. So if Hollywood producers were wanting John Woo to direct, it wasn’t because of Hard Target. So Jean Claude has no claim to John Woo’s success. So that part in the movie was sour grapes more than Jean Claude stating John Woo was a bad director.
Nov. 27, 2008, 4:35 a.m. CST
by Munro Kelly
I don’t know who had the final say but I thought it would have been great, for Jean Claude, to have played the villian in Rush Hour 3. If John Woo wants to leave action movies behind, I think he should go out with a bang. Either a sequel to Hard Target or Hard Boiled. They can base the sequel off the video game Stranglehold. Either way, it would be like a book end. The End of his Hong Kong career, the beginning of Hollywood filmmaking.
Dec. 1, 2008, 9:43 a.m. CST
A JCVD that made folks cry?
Was he punching folks in the balls while in the theater?
Dec. 1, 2008, 10:15 a.m. CST
a JCVD movie that is
Orcus goes into hibernation for a bit and comes out all kinds of screwy
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.