“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.
As the hours tick away, the trio of bandits begin to sound less interested in letting any of their prisoners walk away with their lives. The streets start to fill up with devoted J.C.V.D. fans who have come to cheer their idol on (even if he really is robbing the post office) and the police grow weary, their trigger fingers becoming itchy. And then poor Jean-Claude’s parents show up, too — just to try and talk him out of the building. It’s time for the man who has been receiving the shit-end of the stick from the whole world for all these years to make a decision, which leads up to one of the most sincere and inspired monologues to ever emerge from an action star’s lips (everything he says is from the heart there, folks — top that, Seagal), and a climax that’s anything but Hollywood. No wonder JCVD is such a fun movie.
Peace Arch Home Entertainment bring JCVD to DVD and Blu-ray in the States following a fairly decent theatrical run. The movie has a very gloomy atmosphere to it (in order to relay real life as opposed to fiction, I suppose — that, or it’s just a French thing) so the video presentation doesn’t jump out at you with any vibrant colors or anything of the like. Let’s put it this way: don’t use this one as a template to adjust your color settings, a’ight?
The film is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen ratio with an odd number of audio/subtitle combinations to select from: there’s the “Theatrical Version” with French Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English subtitles, the “English Version” with English 5.1 and partial English subtitles, the “French Version” with both 5.1 and subs in Français, the “Spanish Subtitled Version” presents the Spanish subtitles with the French audio track, and an “English Subtitled For The Hearing Impaired Version” which has full English subs with the French track. Got that? Well, you better get it, because there’s no mix-and-matching here: you must select one option or another — and, while the audio options sound great, the funky way of selecting them (you have to go to the Set Up menu to change from the default French/English version should you need to) makes this the disc’s weakest function.
OK, after taking up an entire paragraph about the weird-ass audio/subtitle issue (you may want to fix that when the expanded director’s cut comes out Peace Arch — just a suggestion), the special features on JCVD include the very praise-worthy U.S. release trailer (2:24), two deleted scenes (totaling 5:37) that are available with or without English subtitles, and a digital copy of the film so you can bootleg this masterpiece to your heart’s content… legally!
Whether you’re a die-hard fan of Jean-Claude who has stuck with him since the No Retreat, No Surrender or Bloodsport days; a former fan whose appreciation for the actor died out when bombs like Timecop and Street Fighter came out; or you’re just another disgruntled Seagal fan that’s ready for a few “Steven” jokes (and really, how could you not resist?), JCVD comes highly recommended: it is without a doubt the best film Van Damme has made to date. Rock on, Jean-Claude!