With JCVD, a fading action star stepped outside himself

The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias:

French-Tunisian director Mabrouk El Mechri, working from a script he wrote with Frédéric Benudis and Christophe Turpin, pours these biographical details into a scenario that’s half hostage thriller, half Irma Vep-style meta-movie. And though the latter part is more compelling than the former, JCVD never forgets that Van Damme’s image is the focal point. El Mechri opens with the best shot of Van Damme’s career (and really, a legitimate candidate for any list of all-time great opening shots), a single take of the 47-year-old kicking, punching, shooting, and stabbing his way through a gauntlet of attackers, who come after him with guns, knives, grenades, even a flamethrower. The shot is ruined when the cheap set collapses at the end, but the young Chinese director has no sympathy for his exhausted middle-aged star: “Just because he brought John Woo to Hollywood doesn’t mean he can rub my dick with sandpaper.”

The movie has its weak points, but overall JCVD is very compelling (especially for someone like me who grew up loving Van Damme’s earlier work like Kickboxer and Bloodsport), both for that aforementioned opening fight scene and a legitimately moving six minute monologue Van Damme delivers partway through the film. There’s something about his presence that makes me root for a comeback out of direct to VOD purgatory.