JCVD

JCVD is a combination of two meta movies. In the first, Jean Claude Van Damme plays "Jean Claude Van Damme", an aging action movie star who has to deal with an ugly divorce, random fans who want attention, and a faltering career. This movie is akin to a lot of reality shows that document the hassles of faded celebrities, but it's simultaneously funnier than those shows (because they have more liberty in what they can show in a film that isn't supposed to be "real") and sadder than those shows (because Van Damme has a surprising amount of dignity in this movie; the years really show on his face.)

In the second movie "Jean Claude Van Damme" is an aging action star who is taken hostage when he wanders into the wrong bank in the middle of a robbery. This part of the movie walks the line between being meta and straight a lot more carefully than the more personal part does, but it still regularly comments on how different reality is from what the movies show us. Van Damme is just as cowed as anyone else would be when he's got a gun in his face.

It was probably a good idea to add another element on top of the "JCVD is old and sad now" plot because at a certain point the jokes about the meat grinder that Hollywood uses to make it's sausages would have felt like inside baseball, which gets exhausting to watch. That said, I'm not sure if it was a good idea to make that secondary plot also be meta. Instead of shoring up something that might have been week, the bank robbery stuff ends up putting too much salt in the soup and spoiling it. 

The root of the problem, I think, is that the two plots are trying to accomplish different things. The parts that are dealing with his personal life are trying to humanize an outsize personality, but the robbery parts are trying to balance being an action movie and being a commentary on action movie. Both are about grounding illusions in reality, but contrasting someone's public and private selves is emotionally compelling, while pointing out the artificiality of cinema is being a killjoy. Seeing Van Damme open up about his life will make you feel connected to him; watching a film that points out how many cliches movie audiences blindly believe in will make you feel condescended to.

If this movie was split fifty fifty down the middle between the two stories I could recommend it heartily; Van Damme's muted performance has a real gravity to it that is truly touching. Unfortunately, the heist parts of the movie dominate the proceedings and are a lot less worthwhile. Being stuck watching a movie that's not very good while a much better movie seems like it's just around the corner is really frustrating. Given the dialogues that Jean Claude Van Damme has with his agents in this film I think he knows the feeling.

Winner: The Cat

JCVD on IMDB