JCVD
R1 - America - Peace Arch Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (27th March 2009).
The Film

When did the name Jean-Claude Van Damme become such a joke? In the late 80’s/early 90’s, the “Muscles from Brussels” was churning out hard-hitting ass kickers that were, admittedly, mindlessly fun and entertaining. Then, sometime around 1995, he virtually disappeared from multiplexes altogether. One could argue that Van Damme hasn’t made a remotely well-received film since 1992’s "Universal Soldier". His last major theatrical film, "Street Fighter" (1994), was a dismissive bomb at the box office, and is still a comedic punch line 15 years after it premiered. His last wide-release theatrical film, "Double Team" (1997), paired him up with NBA loudmouth Dennis Rodman (?!?) and all but hammered the final nail in his acting coffin. So, what exactly has Van Damme been doing over the past 12 years? A quick trip to his IMDB page lists plenty of foreign, direct-to-video clunkers, none of which have done much to re-inflate his sagging career. He needed a change – in a big way. Thankfully, "JCVD" happens to be just that. Not only does Jean-Claude provide an insightful, introspective performance that few would have though him capable of, but he also shows that he has a good-natured, albeit self-deprecating, sense of humor.

"JCVD" opens with a spectacular display of Van Damme’s physical prowess as he levels an army of enemies left and right… until the set literally falls apart. Frustrated with his low rent working conditions on small-scale action films, Jean-Claude is taking work wherever he can get it to make ends meet during a bitter divorce and custody battle with his ex-wife. Low on cash and patience, he goes to the local postal office to get what little money he can from his agent via wire transfer, only to learn that robbers have taken the workers and customers hostage. Deciding to capitalize on their newly-found celebrity hostage, the robbers use Van Damme as a patsy, forcing him to act as though he were the one robbing the office out of desperation. As legions of his fans trek into town to support their hometown hero, Jean-Claude is dealing with the realities of his life. The fact that, despite his action-hero status, he is very much a flesh and blood human who can’t fight his way out of any situation.

Who knew Jean-Claude has this kind of range? You wouldn’t ever guess that someone who spent the 80’s hammered-fisting crotches in "Bloodsport" (1988) and "Lionheart" (1990) would have been able to emote with real conviction. This truly is a breakthrough performance, and Van Damme deserves all of the accolades he’s been receiving. The film is a semi-autobiographical work, and no punches are pulled. Jokes are frequently made referencing his past films, people question his abilities outside of the cinematic realm and Van Damme chooses to deliver a moving 6 minute monologue towards the end of the film that succinctly sums up his career and feelings about where life has taken him. Unlike similar films where actors play themselves in real life, such as Bruce Campbell’s "My Name is Bruce" (2008), "JCVD" doesn’t play into fans’ fantasies by pretending Jean-Claude is a real-life tough guy. He’s a person with emotions; uncertain about how he is viewed as a superstar and as a human being. I hope he can use his strengths on display in "JCVD" to gain some more roles with emotional weight... the guy has chops many never would have guessed exist.

French-Algerian director Mabrouk El Mechri has stated that he was a big fan of Van Damme’s work, so he agreed to take on this project after learning that a film was being penned featuring the film’s eponymous star. Originally, the film portrayed Van Damme as more of a clown, so El Mechri, along with Jean-Claude, re-wrote the script because he believed that there was more to him than the public gave him credit for.. El Mechri has stated that the film is 70% scripted and 30% improvisation, as Van Damme would often make a scene his own which only adds to the film’s rooted-in-reality basis. The film has a very stylized, gritty appearance and El Mechri has said he was influenced chiefly by Jean-Luc Godard, with additional influence coming from the collaborative projects between visionary filmmaker Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman. Knowing these facts, it’s easy to see the influence they had upon the project. Much of the film has a dream-like quality, as evidenced by the cinematography and, similar to "Being John Malkovich" (1999) and "Adaptation" (2002), the main protagonist in "JCVD" is a character who is rooted in fiction, who finds himself floundering in the real world. It’s obvious that El Mechri approached this project with a high level of respect for its star, and the final product is much better for it.

Video

"JCVD" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, but the picture quality leaves much to be desired. The image is very soft, sharpness is almost non-existent, and the white levels are so hot that everything glows. Even though the film was shot on 35mm film stock, some scenes look so poorly lit and composed that you could easily mistake it for video. On the plus side, however, the image isn’t marred by excessive film grain, so what little there is isn’t distracting. I can only hope that the Blu-ray release will be a vast improvement over the DVD because the quality here is severely lacking.

Audio

There are numerous options here, and the menu makes things seem a little more varied than they actually are. The set-up page gives you the option of watching either the Theatrical, English or French versions of the film all of which are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The wording makes it sound as though there are different versions of the film, but all they’re really asking is which language you prefer. The theatrical version is mostly in French, occasionally in English, and provides English subtitles wherever necessary. The English version is a horrendous English dub track that I would suggest you avoid at all costs. The French version is almost the same as the theatrical, only this time the few English lines of dialogue have been dubbed into French.
Subtitles are available for English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

"JCVD" is fairly light on the extras, which is a shame because this is a film that screams for an audio commentary track with the titular star. Perhaps if this edition sells well, a future double dip can provide some more background information on the production of this unique picture. What we do get are just 2 deleted scenes, the film’s theatrical trailer and a digital copy of the film.

The 2 deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 letterbox with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Optional English subtitles are available. They are:

- Scene #1 is an alternate take of Jean-Claude knocking the cigarette out of a fellow hostage’s mouth to amuse one of the robbers. It runs for 1 minute and 50 seconds.
- Scene #2 has Jean-Claude explaining to the robbers and hostages his decision to become an actor and how he approaches his craft. It runs for 3 minutes 23 seconds.

The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and it runs for 2 minutes and 23 seconds.

Finally, there is a digital copy available for portable media devices.

Overall

The Film: B Video: C Audio: B- Extras: C- Overall: B-

 


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