Being Jean Claude
The "meta" movie, or, put another way, self-referential movie, is a tricky concept to pull off, but when it's done well it can be a lot of fun. Such is the case with JCVD, a rather out-of-nowhere film about, of all things, the waning career and celebrity wear-and-tear of Jean Claude Van Damme. He plays a version of himself, mostly based on his real life, for the purposes of soul-baring -- that is, how does he feel about the point he has come to, as a relatively successful action star who nonetheless feels rather empty on the inside?
The scenario within which Van Damme comes to a point of crisis is a fairly standard crime plot -- he's one of the people held hostage when robbers decide to hold up a Brussels post office. JCVD may or may not be revealing the truth about Van Damme, and the way he feels about his life -- for all we know, it's just a big show, a put-on for our entertainment -- but what matters is that it's really quite convincing. You do want to believe this is Van Damme, especially when he delivers a fourth wall-breaking soliloquy wherein he expresses bitter sadness and many regrets; and, perhaps most surprisingly, you can be assuredly sold on his performance, recalling the famous line supposedly uttered by John Ford about John Wayne after seeing Red River: "I didn’t know the big son of a bitch could act!"
JCVD is also quite humorous, taking the opportunity to make ample jokes referencing Van Damme's career, including a few funny cracks about John Woo and Steven Seagal, and lampooning the celebrity effect in general (the crowd that gathers outside roots for JCVD, even though the police believe he's perpetrating the crime; one of the robbers is clearly enamoured of him, talking about his movies and asking him to demonstrate some karate).
All in all, the film is a good twist on a persona most of us probably thought of in two-dimensional terms; it's always refreshing to see when such a person is smarter than we think -- and is fully in on the joke as well.
(Released by Peace Arch Entertainment Group and rated "R" for language and some violence.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.