The first good movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme? I was intrigued when I heard about this one. JCVD is not a venereal disease you catch in church, but a movie about a down on his luck Van Damme who gets caught up in a robbery hostage situation. And it’s everything you don’t expect from a movie with him in it. Now, I like watching him struggle with lines and spin-kick for no reason, but seeing him in a thriller-drama was just as enjoyable.
For one, the first scene is Van Damme on a movie set, fighting his way through a war zone in one uninterrupted take for a demanding Hong Kong director. It’s one of the best action scenes in a Van Damme movie, including the much-maligned Hard Target which I love. It’s mentioned several times that Van Damme “brought John Woo to Hollywood and then got dropped” for big names, and after seeing Face/Off, Broken Arrow and Mission: Impossible II I have to say, when the Jean-Claude Van Damme one is the least ridiculous, what the hell is going on here? But that’s another story. Jean-Claude is behind on his alimony, he’s losing his custody battle, and he needs his paycheck cashed to pay his lawyer. But the bank can’t cash his check, so he goes looking for a post office so he can send a money order.
On the way, some fans ask for photographs and he quietly accepts. Through his suffering he remains thankful to the fans. He takes a cab ride and just wants to sleep, but the cabbie keeps talking; she finds him rude, and tells him so. We see our hero reduced to having more than feet of clay, but perhaps a whole body of it. And when he enters that post office, nothing you expect happens. One crook is a fan and wants to see him spin-kick a cigarette out of someone’s mouth. We keep waiting for him to turn into the karate machine, but this is an actor. A tired one. And before he gets out of this sticky situation, we’ll see him bare his soul. It’s nothing you’d expect from a Van Damme movie, but more gripping than any film he’s ever made.
This was one of the most surprising and enjoyable movies of 2008 and I regret waiting to rent it. It was theater-worthy. This is like Cop Land was for Stallone; Van Damme is directing The Eagle Path (trailer) due out this year, but I know little about it. If he learned enough from JCVD, it might be something.