I never thought I’d say these words: Jean Claude Van Damme can act!

Jean Claude Van Damme is an actor.  I know what you’re thinking and there was a time when you would have been right.  But based on his latest movie, today’s DVD release of JCVD, you’ll have to reassess.  Van Damme is now 48 years old and for most of the last 25 years, has appeared in movies that required little more of him than to flex his (admittedly impressive) muscles and perform martial arts assaults on exposed limbs, usually in edits so quick it obscured his true skill.  He is, after all, a former Mr. Belgium body builder and a European Karate middleweight champion (with 5 years of ballet, as well, which explains the fluidity of his movement).  With the exception of the occasional scene in which he attempts to convince us of his attachment to a wife/girlfriend/child, not a lot was asked from him thespically.  Well in JCVD (his initials), he plays a character who he can really get his mind around: himself.  Buried in the mire of a tough custody battle that is not going his way and having cash-flow issues, Van Damme comes home to Belgium and while stopping at a postal outlet/bank for a money transfer, he gets trapped in a botched robbery and hostage situation and to make matters worse, the hostages use Van Damme to get their demands met by making the authorities think Van Damme is one of them.  The characters are simply and sterotypically drawn and the plot is a standard hostage drama but all this simply works to accentuate how good Van Damme is in this.  With the exception of a terrific opening sequence that features Jean Claude moving through a nighttime war-torn city, killing and maiming in a extended 5 minute take with no cuts (that I can recall) and a short fight in the end, there is none of the violence associated with his past movies and the remaining 75 minutes has Van Damme…acting.  The highlight is a 5 minute soliloquy to the camera where Jean Claude rhapsodizes philosophically about his life and is even reduced to tears at one point.  I just wish all of this great work was in aid of something great.  Alas, it is the movie itself that fails Van Damme and not vice versa.  While stylish enough, the look of the movie is at best murky and at times, the action is difficult to make out while the script is at the same time simplistic and pretentious.  But I will say this: that Jean Claude Van Damme can act!

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