Monday, April 6, 2009


I hate to toot my own horn, folks, but I called this one. Two years ago I told friends and family that of all the action stars of "the day" that have stumbled to the direct to dvd industry, Jean Claude Van Damme would be the one to return to respectability. In his latest, the European made "JCVD", his acting isn't just "up to par", or "respectable". By gum, he's "Damn good." I mean true range is shown here.

And I called it.

I developed this idea from two things.

1. His choices of scripts. They included films that may not be fit for the silver screen, but as far as direct to dvd is concerned, they were of a high order. Ringo Lam's "In Hell", Philippe Martinez's "Wake of Death", as well as JCVD's last pair of films, "The Shepherd" (including some of JC's best fight choreography in years), and "Until Death" were among his more recent work that were well made affairs and show that JCVD's script-choosing was definitely noticeably improving. Unlike Seagal who seems to have a new disc out every 10 minutes, Van Damme's output is about one film a year.

2. His improving thespian ability. In "Until Death", he formed a slimy and corrupt detective who was both a horrible person and a broken soul. By the end of the movie he carries it through to a redemptive ending that does work. What tipped me off that this upward trend was begginning was the start of the DTDVD run, "Replicant". He plays a duel role in the film, but the spoken role as a serial killer is not all that impressive. It's his wordless performance as basically a full grown infant frightened of the world that impressed me. Much like Jackie Chan, it's all in the face and the eyes, and Jean Claude nailed it.
In the bruiser category, physically, he's still close to the top of his game. As I mentioned, he has some excellent fight work in "The Shepherd", and very good stuff in "Wake of Death" as well. Without using his trademark ballet-tinged high flying karate, he is a bashing monster by the end of "In Hell", and I found that somewhat impressive.
He wasn't by any means perfect, but his work was infinitely more watchable than the ballyhoo put out by Seagal, Snipes, et al.

And now, "JCVD", an uneven film where he plays himself, getting caught up in a bank/post office holdup in his hometown in Belgium while in the middle of battles for child custody and control of his waning career stateside. He's funny, angry, and achingly sad in some scenes where I was blown away by the emotion he managed to dredge up.

This film is proof positive for JCVD fans that as he ages, JCVD has got a lot left in the tank, and need not be pigeon-holed in action fare anymore.

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