Jean-Claude Van Damme (himself), an out of luck actor, is out of money, his agent can't find him a decent production, and the judge in a custody battle is inclined to give custody of his daughter (Saskia Flanders) to his ex-wife. He returns to his childhood home of Brussels, where he's still considered a national icon. When he goes into a post office to receive a wire transfer, he finds himself in the middle of a robbery and hostage situation. The police believe Van Damme is responsible for the crime and Van Damme finds himself acting as a hero to protect the hostages, as well as negotiator. Van Damme is forced to play a different kind of hero by accepting responsibility for crimes he didn't commit and the life mistakes that he made.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's clever and unexpected, this confluence of dramatic fiction and real life that finds action star Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a version of himself in a heist movie located in his home town of Brussels. Director Mabrouk El Mechri and two collaborators have concocted a brilliantly conceived notion for the Muscles from Brussels to play a down-on-his-luck action star that can't get a good role, hasn't slept for two days, is going through an ugly custody battle, is out of cash and to top it off, finds himself in the middle of a real heist. It takes some good self-depreciating humour to take on such a role, and Van Damme delivers with flying colours. Not everything works, but there's plenty to keep us intrigued and entertained as the narrative plays out to an unexpected conclusion.
The film begins with an extended action scene in which Van Damme the action star is seen at work on set, making his karate moves and powering his way through a team of bad guys. But things are not going well and there's a custody wrangle involving his daughter and his agent's inability to find him a good role. Now he's back in his home town, where he's a local celebrity, and before entering the post office to cash a wire transfer, he good naturedly signs autographs for the locals in the street. Inside, he is also recognised; this time by a small group of criminals who have taken hostages at gun point. There's wry humour as Van Damme switches roles, going from celebrity to hostage and then to negotiator, as he is forced to field the phone calls from François Damiens's Police Chief Bruges.
There's a sense of watching events unravel before our eyes, as the police and gathering crowd believe that it is Van Damme who is the perpetrator. Van Damme is both the hero and the victim; these scenes are often funny in an ironic way. His monologue to camera in which he reflects about his life from a scrawny 13 year old kid who aspired to be a Hollywood star, comes out of the blue and is a knockout. The storyline flounders and confuses at times as it heads towards the final resolution, but the film offers many surprises and is well worth the journey.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is quite an extraordinary film in both concept and execution. Mabrouk El Mechri takes enormous risks in turning Jean Claude Van Damme into a screen version of Jean Claude Van Damme, putting him in jeopardy in an action movie. Double helix laws of cinema are stretched as JCVD becomes a victim in a scenario that his movies position him as a hero.
Made like a doco and unsaturated to almost black and white, the film jumps edgily at times and at one point Van Damme delivers a confessional monologue to camera - one of the cameras in the post office. A remarkable piece of improv; slightly discordant and almost obscure - but we get the gist.
Van Damme has never done work like this before, and he's supported by the director's unique vision for the film. The scenario is nothing special: a robbery by a small gang, one of whose members is a psychotically dangerous character. But the film never lets us relax in the knowledge that Van Damme will heroically save the day - and this is its trump card. By the time the hostage situation ends there is a fatalistic mood to the enterprise and the ending is cleverly devised to give us a red herring and a genuine resolution which works well to satisfy the plot and the cinematic challenge. The less I say the better. You just have to see it.
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CAST: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens, Zinedine Soulam, Karim Belkhadra, Jean-Francois Wolff, Anne Paulicevich
PRODUCER: Sidonie Dumas
DIRECTOR: Mabrouk El Mechri
SCRIPT: Mabrouk El Mechri, Frederic Benudis, Christophe Turpin
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre-Yves Bastard
EDITOR: Kako Kelber
MUSIC: Gast Waltzing
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andre Fonsny
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission/Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: April 2, 2009; Sydney: April 9, 2009
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