In JCVD, a French- and English-language film from savvily tenebrous director Mabrouk El Mechri, Jean-Claude Van Damme is Jean-Claude Van Damme. Losing his roles to Steven Seagal and a custody battle over his young daughter, the international action hero is struggling to maintain relevancy on levels both professional and personal. But when Jean-Claude walks into a bank to withdraw his attorney fees and is suddenly in the thick of a heist, is the haggard superstar orchestrating the stickup? Or is he simply a hostage, as trapped by fame as he is by criminals, who happens to know a couple of take-down moves? Don't be fooled by its action-ready premise; JCVD isn't quite the latest kickboxing carousal from the Muscles from Brussels. It's something even better: a sad, seriocomic meta-movie that may recall BEING JOHN MALKOVICH or one of Charlie Kaufman's many other ontological curios in the minds of some viewers. But, while both JCVD and MALKOVICH examine the strangeness of celebrity through the lens of absurdist self-referential filmmaking, and both films choose a fascinating, quasi-alienating aesthetic of vibrantly muddy mid-tones, JCVD dresses its dankness in glaringly blown-out lighting effects that acknowledge a topsy-turvy world in which artifice sits just upon reality. It also assumes the opposition of its Kaufman counterpart by being the one to look at fame from within (which is ironic, since it isn't the one that features people entering an actor's head and peeping though his eyes). Buzzily hilarious, JCVD is a personal, deeply felt film. Van Damme's delivery of a Fellini-esque soliloquy about the angst of fame could've resulted in the action star coming across as a crybaby. Instead, the speech, in which he breaks the fourth wall and expresses his ironic frustrations, is revelatory and heartbreaking.
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