I guess that my two months of taking, and mostly failing at, tae kwon doe when I was about ten never made me the biggest martial arts fan. What the heck, I never passed beyond yellow belt! But when I began hearing murmurs about how JCVD was Van Damme’s comeback movie and actually seemed to be getting positive reviews, well I got curious and I wanted to check it out for myself. My girlfriend and I went to Bytowne Cinema last night to discover this latest opus from director Mabrouk El Mechri starring the Muscles from Brussels.

First off, it’s important to know that this is not a biopic but rather a story that toes the line between fact and fiction. The plot is this: Van Damme is back in Brussels following a real life downward spiral in Hollywood where he’s seemingly losing custody of his daughter, he’s broke and, for lack of a better term, he’s become a movie has-been. In a funny moment, his agent lets him know that his arch nemesis, Steven Segal got a part he was vying for because he promised to cut his pony tail. His streak of bad luck continues when he enters a Post Office where an armed robbery is taking place. Soon, he is the one accused of the robbery and the ensuing hostage situation.

In a not so exaggerated way, the rumour that Van Damme is holding hostages spreads like wild fire to the whole town, and soon after, the world. He is after all a movie star, and it just goes to show that the media is ready to jump on anything. And this part of the movie is probably an open criticism to the over exposure that celebrities, all over the world, get whether they want it or not.

The whole thing may have been a catharsis for Van Damme – being able to poke fun at himself with his fran-glais (je suis “aware”), at what made him famous (Bloodsport, Hard Target, Universal Soldier), seeing and hearing him admits his faults and even shed a tear when his mother is put on the phone to ask him to surrender makes this guy who’s made a career out of being killing machine a real person and a likeable guy. And that is why JCVD works.

The plot is Hollywood but the setting is definitely not and the man, who seems to have fallen off of the Hollywood radar, was humble and smart enough to take on this movie and make it a success. Time magazine even speaks of an Oscar-worthy performance for JCVD. While I wouldn’t go as far as that, his speech to the audience, three quarters into the movie is certainly a near tear jerker that made me want to see more of Van Damme the actor in the future.

You can catch JCVD at Bytowne Cinema 4 days only from Dec. 1st to 4th.
http://www.bytowne.ca/cgi-bin/calendar.cgi?m=12&y=2008