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reviewed by Marc Glassman

JCVD. Mabrouk El Mechri, director & co-script w/Federic Benudis & Christophe Turpin. Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD), Francois Damiens, Zinedine Soualem, J-F Wolff

When the various Brocollis — producers of James Bond and creators of a great vegetable — searched for replacements for Roger Moore and other 007s in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it’s doubtful that anyone even remotely considered Jean-Claude van Damme for the part. In those days, van Damme could have easily handled the action sequences but the Belgian star would hardly have been acceptable as a classic Brit. Instead, he muddled through with a series of action flicks that garnered him money and fans, but no true critical appreciation.

Time passed and the van Dammes and Stallones slipped back from prominence as movie stars. Until — in the case of van Damme — now.

JCVD stars the “muscles from Brussels” Jean-Claude van Damme in the role you never expected to see — as a hostage victim, beleaguered parent and needy son. A kind of low-budget Being John Malkovich, this meta-cinema project has van Damme playing himself — or at least a version of himself. It proposes the idea that the former karate star and B-movie actor is captured by bank robbers while he’s on a trip home to Brussels. What would a guy like van Damme do in such a situation, when the guns are “real” and the crooks pathetically stupid but psychotic?

“Well, what would you do, punk?” Nothing, I bet. And so does van Damme. In fact, the script forces him to work with the crooks in order to keep violence at bay. With police surrounding the bank, a media frenzy erupts as people assume that van Damme is the ringleader of the failed heist.

JCVD plays out its B-movie scenario but takes its time, offering lovely post-modern breaks with van Damme allowed to deliver soliloquies to the camera about his existential situation. (Van Damme is famous for his weird philosophical digressions.)

Screened first at Cannes and then quite successfully in Toronto at TIFF, JCVD is being hailed as van Damme’s comeback film. Certainly it’s his best effort since John Woo’s Hard Target, made over a decade ago, and will likely propel him back into the limelight.

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