Jean-Claude Van Varenberg is not a name you would typically remember. Now replace the last name with Van Damme and that changes dramatically. They are one and the same, but the latter name invokes a certain response. Fame and celebrity invokes a certain universal scrutiny that a "normal" person lives without. It is this theme that the movie cleverly uses to spin a fictitious (and sometimes surreal) dark comedy about the random events surrounding the life of the real Jean-Claude Van Damme.
An immediate JC association is that he is an aging but once prominent international action-movie star, who is well past his prime and now making B-movies exclusively to pay the bills. The movie is constantly juxtaposing that image against a "real life" person trying to play themselves, outside of a movie. The introduction and opening credits is a 3 minute, complicated action sequence of which we would be expecting from a movie starring JC. It's the best JC action sequence of the last 10 years and it turns out to be just another scene in one of those B-movies he is making. This is NOT an action movie, however. He takes his first hit from the 20-something Asian director.
JC takes another hit during his divorce/custody hearing, in which his daughter doesn't want to be with him because friends laugh when he is on TV. Because he makes action movies he is associated with violence and all that implies. He cannot get the roles he wants, because he is typecast. It becomes a vicious cycle to pay the bills through B-movies. He returns home, to Belgium, to figure things out. He just needs to get some cash from the Post Office to pay the cabbie. A mundane situation. Then fans notice him. Everyone starts to notice. Too bad the post office turns into a hostage drama with the cops making a command center of nearby video store. Subliminally we all expect JC to take care of the situation in action-movie style. He does and he doesn't.
The movie is shot in a gritty, digital format reminiscent of a documentary/reality show style. The colors are generally muted in faded gray, greens and browns. Nothing pops but instead screams industrial and earthy. Gritty & real. I saw the dubbed version of the film and as bad as it sounded, it did not affect my enjoyment of the movie. I do recommend you watch it with the original soundtrack and JC talking in his native language.
In this era of films where I have to prepare myself before going out to the theater (by prepare I mean, leave most expectations at home & bring a flask with me), this was a surprise. That is a beautiful and rare thing these days. Though JC is playing a role, namely himself in a fictional situation, you can tell he brought some acting muscle and lay himself upon the alter for exposition. I have always had an affinity for the accent-laden action hero (Schwarzenegger being the other) and this does for JC was Danny the Dog did for Jet Li. It opened my eyes to the untapped talent still residing within an aged action star.
JC ,in an amazing gesture, transcends the movie at one point and his image by stopping the film (pre-climax) and rising about it (literally) to speak to us directly. It feels like a heart-to-heart moment between JC the man addressing his audience and critics alike. The scene, though seemingly out of place, works because it seems like a genuine glimpse into the man. He talks about things that are important to him and even cries several times. I felt as if I had just been witness to a communal exorcism and rebirth. If it was all acting, I have nothing but praise and admiration for JC. He entertained me, inspired and taught me something, all within the span of 90 minutes. He can live contently in the knowledge that he is and never will be Steven Segal. And that's a good thing.
View all the screen shots here.