“Central to Unit 27: Jean-Claude Van Damme is robbing a post office — I need back-up!”
In all honesty, I think Jean-Claude Van Damme got a tough break. Sure, he’s been in some truly sorry flicks over the past twenty-some-odd years, and the few good films that he made (e.g., the surprisingly superb Nowhere To Run) were completely overshadowed by several overrated Hollywood blockbuster-type films and his unfortunate incident with narcotics a few years back. His alleged ego may come into the picture more times than they should have, but personally, Van Damme seems to me like the type of troubled and shy guy who deserves a second chance. Lo and behold, he may have just earned his rebirth into modern cinema with a stellar performance in JCVD.
Writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri gives us a highly entertaining feature wherein a washed-up Van Damme (playing himself) returns to his native Belgium to start anew with his parents following some tax problems and a court battle (in which his ex-wife has won custody over their daughter). Without a single cent to his name and facing the humiliation that Steven Seagal has taken yet another part that was originally offered to him, Jean-Claude hops into a local post office to pick up a money transfer from his U.S. agent. But it’s a bad move for J.C.V.D. when he discovers that the PO is being held up by three robbers (Jean-François Wolff, Karim Belkhadra, and Zinedine Soualem — the latter of whom is the leader of the group and looks suspiciously like John Cazale in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon). Recognizing the celebrity instantly, the thieves make full use of their newly acquired hostage and it isn’t long before every cop in Belgium is on the scene — all of whom firmly believe that Jean-Claude Van Damme has finally lost it and is holding the joint up!
While the movie’s “hostage” bit may tend to go on a little too long for some viewers, JCVD nevertheless gives us all the opportunity to see Van Damme in an entirely new light: as a human being. When the shit hits the fan in the movie, the down-on-his-luck actor doesn’t burst into any outrageous Hollywood bullshit heroics — instead, he searches for the weakest link in the group of burglars (in this case, the wonderful Karim Belkhadra) and tries to gain his confidence and assurance that none of the other hostages will get hurt.