JCVD Mabrouk El Mechri

JCVD Mabrouk El Mechri
Anyone who has spent too much time on YouTube has most likely stumbled across footage of action star Jean-Claude Van Damme accidentally sprouting an erection on a Belgian talk show.

A video like this would become a viral sensation with any celebrity but the fact that it’s Van Damme gives it a certain sad irresistibility. Here is the "Muscles from Brussels,” a washed-up D-lister, losing his last shreds of dignity on national television.

Mabrouk El Mechri’s JCVD is like an answer to Van Damme’s walking-punch line status, a funny but respectful film about what it’s really like to be Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Van Damme stars as himself: a has-been action star whose latest movies are low-budget stinkers and who has recently lost an acting job to Steven Seagal. ("He promised to cut the ponytail.”)

In his personal life, his latest divorce leaves the cash-strapped star fighting a losing battle for custody of his daughter. While at his lowest ebb, he stumbles into a robbery at a Belgian post office where the robbers use him as a fall guy. Ironically, the streets quickly become filled with loyal Van Damme fans with signs like, "We Love JCVD!”

JCVD has a premise that lends itself to irony but El Mechri isn’t interested in laughs at Van Damme’s expense. Instead, JCVD is sympathetic to his career fluctuations and personal problems. (In an excellent scene, Van Damme delivers a heartfelt monologue that’s like a grocery list of the pitfalls of fame.)

The film is also often very funny in its observations about the cult of celebrity, and El Mechri’s direction is stylish and intense. And finally, a sentence I never thought I’d type: Jean-Claude Van Damme gives a great performance. (Peace Arch)