JCVD (US - BD RA)
Gabe gets a good look behind the curtain with the real Van Damme...
Way down on his luck, making movies he knows are bad for young turk jerks, and running out of money, Jean Claude Van Damme retreats to his native Brussels. When his lawyer, who’s covering his recent custody battle, announces that his latest check has bounced Van Damme takes a trip to the local bank. After arguing with the teller a bit the once prominent star realizes he’s actually walked into a heist, and the robbers are planning on using him as a stoolie.
JCVD opens with a continuous action shot that almost rivals the best Children of Men had to offer. There are a few flubs to tell us it’s supposed to be a movie, but the actual production is super high quality for a joke. Right off the bat I’d like to see this team tackle a traditional action movie. But JCVD isn’t a traditional action movie, in fact, the final product is quite the opposite. Other ‘washed up’ stars have played satirical versions of themselves on film before, but I don’t think the results have ever been this poignant, save maybe Jerry Lewis’ King of Comedy turn (if that even counts).
Narratively speaking the film gets away from director Mabrouk El Mechri a few times when he messes with time unnecessarily, but the back and forth structure makes for a bit more mystery in what is generally a pretty straight forward narrative. The pace is quick enough, but even with the time code fiddling the film does not recall Guy Ritchie or Michael Mann, which is refreshing. Still, the story can be mostly summed up as ‘Jean Claude Van Damme wonders into Dog Day Afternoon. There aren’t many surprises outside of Van Damme’s performance and the opening action spoof. It’s a solid low budget production that mixes stylized lighting with a documentary voyeurism, and features a few very clever post-modernist moments.
But here’s the thing—I’m honestly not all that surprised by Van Damme’s performance. The guy started his career wooden as a board, but as he’s slowly evolved into a capable performer, at least within the crappy confines of his crappy STV output. I am, however, a bit surprised with the authority Van Damme rules over the film. Even when he’s not running a scene the film is always cooler and funnier when he’s on screen. The conversation Van Damme shares with one of his captures about the film business is a particular gem (‘Without you John Woo would still be filming pigeons back in Hong Kong’).
Director Mabrouk El Mechri utilizes many different filmmaking styles to create JCVD’s collage look, including bleached out colours and blue tints, but the majority of the film is shot through harsh diffused light, and the colours are warmed after being de-saturated. The stylization is coupled with an occasional pseudo-documentary feel, which in turn leads to some reasonably thick grain in some scenes. Details are pretty soft overall, apparently on purpose judging by the diffusion regularly used to display the light. The overall contrast is pretty high, but the blacks are rarely pure thanks to the diffusion and warmth. Besides the grain there isn’t a lot of noise on the print, and there’s only slight edge-enhancement (which might just be an effect of the hard white lights).
This might be the first Blu-ray disc I’ve seen that doesn’t feature a next generation soundtrack. JCVD is a low budget film, and is more concerned with telling it’s story than impressing us with its audio fury. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is largely centred, save the music, and though it is clear, things are a bit flat and canned. The overall coolness of the film isn’t in question from the first reel, but the inclusion of music that sounds right out of a ‘70s cop movie certainly doesn’t hurt. The muted brass and kettle drums are especially top shelf touches. Some of the pop music inclusions are less than inspired, but for the most part the catalogue music is spot on as well. Foreign film fans may recall the recent debacle concerning subtitles on comparably smallish studio Magnolia’s Let the Right One In release, and may be wondering about Peach Tree’s translation skills. I can’t answer the question fully because I don’t speak French, but I noticed only small grammatical errors on the subtitles.
If you’re looking to learn about the likely interesting behind the scenes process of JCVD you’ll have to do like me and take to the internet because there aren’t many informative extras on this disc. Besides the original trailer, all we get are a series of deleted and extended scenes with optional subtitles. The scenes are rough (including the director calling action and the clap board), non-anamorphic, and often not all that different from the scenes that made the final cut. The scenes total two and run under six minutes.
Van Damme’s diehard fans owe it to themselves to see their hero in a truly venerable state, and the rest of us will probably enjoy JCVD as a standalone, even if we hate the actor’s goofy action output. I’m not as gigantically surprised by the film as some critics who were likely caught off guard out of ignorance towards the man’s abilities, but still found the film quite entertaining. The Blu-ray disc isn’t shockingly sharp or bright due to the film’s stylized lighting, and the soundtrack is what we call ‘unassuming’, so I don’t recommend going out of your way to get it over the DVD release.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 28th April 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 French/English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Genre: Comedy, Crime and Drama
Length: 97 minutes
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