Is This Real Life…

I have to admit, I loved Jean-Claude Van Damme films when I was a kid.  Although I haven’t seen one in a while, I imagine that I still would.  My motto:  “There’s nothing better than a great movie than a bad one.”  I mean, have you seen Street Fighter?  In his latest film, Van Damme and director Mabrouk El Mechri have managed to take these moments and his history as a B-action movie star and spin them into a unique new film entitled JCVD which turns out laughs, for all the right reasons, and thoughts about the state of stardom in popular culture today.

In JCVD, the titular action star is in a world of trouble, but not with middle eastern terrorists.  He has no film projects on the horizon and he is fighting a losing battle with his wife over custody of their young girl.  He returns to Brussels for a breather and to reassess his life.  When he walks into a post office to transfer money to his lawyer, he happens to stumble upon a robbery.  Even though the three criminals are just a little tougher than the Three Stooges, the real life Van Damme is nothing compared to his on-screen persona.  Like the other hostages, he cowers in fear and pleads with the robbers to release them without harm.

Van Damme makes light of his current troubles.  Before he realizes that they are hostages, he tries to get other people in the post office to take up a collection for him, shouting, “Look at me!  Jean-Claude Van Damme walking around with no cash!”  When he realizes that the post office is being robbed, he laughs, “Smile! I’m on Candid Camera.”  When the lead robber instructs his partner to put Van Damme with the rest of the hostages, he replies, “What are you crazy?  It’s JCVD!”

Though the film’s jokes are somewhat repetitive, it’s take on both Van Damme’s career and the state of action stars in popular culture is a welcome commentary.  In a very real way, Van Damme is used and abused by both the film industry and the robbers.  The robbers are content to let the authorities think that Van Damme is holding up the post office as they hide behind his tough-guy persona.  His agent is content to shell out this same persona for crap action movies that cost little to produce but will reap great financial rewards in Europe and Asia where he is most popular.  In the end, both his agent and the robbers bank on his image to get what they want. JCVD might inspire us to think role of the hero in our contemporary society.  What do we expect from our superstars in real life…or even in their films for that matter?  In a humorous take on Dog Day Afternoon (1975), the crowd gathered outside the robbery, immediately take Van Damme’s side and cheer for their national hero.  Unfortunately, I doubt that we’ll see anything else like this out of J-C.V.D.  The list of his upcoming films signals more action and less reflection on the horizon.

JCVD (97 mins.) is rated R for violence and some language and is available on DVD and streaming on Netflix.