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JCVD | DVD Review

“Writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri wished upon a star and, amazingly, got him to turn in the performance of a lifetime.”

Johnny Carson’s Victory Dance? Jiminy Cricket’s Venereal Disease? Jesus Christ Votes Democrat? While these all might sound like interesting ideas for a film titled JCVD, the real idea behind the film surprisingly trumps all three, even the one about Pinocchio’s pint-sized cohort’s romantic escapades. Writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri wished upon a star and, amazingly, got him to turn in the performance of a lifetime.

You see, JCVD is a film about – sort of – and starring Jean Claude Van Damme (Universal Soldier, Timecop). It’s a strange but oh-so-clever Roger Avary-esque story that begins with a riotous single-shot opening sequence in which we see how washed up the Muscles from Brussels has become, then continues with our down-on-his-luck and almost broke hero returning home to Belgium after losing custody of his daughter to one of his many ex-wives. Once there and after posing for some photos with a few fans, he goes to the local post office/bank and walks in on a botched hold-up that turns into a hostage situation. Having seen Van Damme enter moments earlier, the fans presume he is the culprit and word spreads pretty quickly. With the police arriving at the same time as a mass of JCVD’s fans, the real criminals decide to play along and force Van Damme to make demands and threaten hostages if the demands are not met. Self-parodying throughout the film, Van Damme sets up the final act by breaking down the fourth wall and lamenting, directly to the camera, what he has become; the disheveled and tired-looking actor delivers a monstrous monologue that should be taught in drama classes…it’s that good.

JCVD works on every level. The script, co-written by El Mechri and Frederic Benudis, features some excellent witty dialogue and is just clever enough to not cross the line into pure cheese. Director of photography Pierre-Yves Bastard (you read that right) makes good use of the lack of light in the bank/post office setting, giving JCVDa gritty realistic feel. And the acting from the rest of the cast is solid, if unremarkable, as well. But when you name your film for your lead actor and base the story on him – albeit very loosely – it really is up to him to carry the film. Van Damme does so admirably, gamely lampooning his public persona and infusing the role with enough charm to win over even his harshest critics.

The DVD includes the theatrical, English, and French versions of the film, but if your French is pretty good you’d be best served watching JCVD in its theatrical version, perhaps with subtitles on. The frequent jumping between English and French adds to the film’s charm and Van Damme’s performance is best savored in this fashion. As for special features, there aren’t many to speak of:

Deleted Scenes: Less than ten minutes of deleted scenes are featured here, including a different take of the ‘cigarette-kick’ scene, and a longer scene of dialogue between Van Damme and some of the hostages where he discusses his life and his work. El Mechri wisely chose to leave this one out, as it would have detracted from the power of Van Damme’s monologue later in the film.

Theatrical Trailer: This trailer is one of the better ones among recent films. It conveys the general idea of the film without giving away too much of the plot and manages to generate considerable interest to watch JCVD among people who haven’t seen it yet.

JCVD is a darkly comic crime thriller reminiscent of Dog Day Afternoon and Killing Zoe, but the story is really only a backdrop to The Jean Claude Van Damme Show, and it works. With the cult of celebrity the way it is these days, it’s almost believable that this scenario could actually play out in real life. About the only thing missing is a very itchy green insect.

Movie rating – 4

Disc Rating – 2.5

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