Less the Being John Malkovich-inspired romp that pre-release hype suggested, than the action genre’s Scream, JCVD is an oddball film that is likeable, but quickly runs out of steam. Things start promisingly with the opening credits sequence, which features an action extravaganza that exhibits a series of Van Damme’s still-impressive moves in one uninterrupted take. Unfortunately, these are by far the most action-packed moments in the film. What follows instead is a mildly clever premise that features the Muscles from Brussels playing himself as he’s caught up in a goofily implausible hostage situation.
Things begin with a great deal of comic energy, but before long, the basic jokes at play here (that Van Damme’s celebrity is embarrassing, that he’s still the best that Belgium has got, etc…) begin to repeat themselves, much like the Tarantinoesque narrative. As the bank robbery is played and replayed from slightly different perspectives, little that is new comes to light, resulting in a film that seems to be crawling further and further up its own ass. The whole enterprise seems designed to give the audience permission to embrace a guilty pleasure by providing ironic distance, but that approach underestimates the audience’s willingness to accept entertainment on its own terms and quickly turns self-congratulatory in the worst possible way.
Savvy without being sophisticated, JCVD grows more and more interminable as the headaches that face poor Jean-Claude pile up. As he is dealing with the demands of his lawyer, his agent, his fans, the cops, and bumbling bank robbers, the celebrity is pushed toward a breaking point. This tension culminates in an exasperating, fourth-wall-breaking, tearful confessional monologue that may have been designed to be the film’s emotional centerpiece, but feels opportunistic and ill-phrased in practice. Much like JCVD in general, it probably sounded better in theory.