by Cara McKenna
This is my longest post to date…and the least relevant! Today I'm blogging about an experiment I undertook with my manfriend this past winter, in which we watched every Jean-Claude Van Damme film we could get our hands on—over thirty movies in six weeks. Hey, it's New England. February's a bitch and you need projects.
This all began on a semi-drunken night in Old England. My traveling companion and I enjoyed a couple too many Guinesses out amongst my Yorkshire brethren and returned to our hotel to find a terrifically horrible Steven Seagal movie on TV…I wish I could remember more, but I only know it was set in Alaska and all the Inuits seemed to be played by Chinese actors. We laughed and laughed and passed out.
One night after I got back home, the manfriend and I were hurting for entertainment and I said, "Let's watch a Steven Seagal movie!" He said, "I heard Steven Seagal has some contract clause where he won't even take a punch in his fight scenes. Let's watch a Van Damme movie instead." And so we did. Then another. Then another, then a month and a half later we'd watched JCVD's entire available oeuvre. That's about two cumulative days of each of our lives, lost forever, ninety minutes at a time.
As a consequence of this experiment I developed a massive soft spot for JC. He takes a lot of flak for his many rather bad films, and for his allegedly poor acting. It's true, he can't deliver a Hollywood one-liner to save his life, but I think he's actually a rather strong emotional actor. He's also a kick-ass screen martial artist, and I think anyone who bad-mouths JC should be forced to do a split whilst saving a baby and reciting lines in a non-native language. Then we'll see who's talented.
And of course, Jean-Claude Van Damme is pretty foxy. I didn't realize that before starting this experiment, as I'd never actually seen any of his movies. Hey, bonus! He's got a fine face (including the mysterious bump on his forehead which I've taken to calling his "spider eggs") and an ass that just won't quit.
Anyhow, enough of my defensive mother-hen clucking. On to the thirty-plus mini-reviews, my public service guide to JCVD's Cinematic Oeuvre. Here they are, from best to worst…worst in this case meaning boring or insulting, not necessarily campy or ridiculous—many of JC's campy and ridiculous films are among my favorites. You will notice color-coded themes running through these reviews, denoting special features, such as the ways in which JC's accent is explained. Other features are so ubiquitous in JC's films that I haven't bothered pointing them out. These include explosions, breaking glass, primal screams, and high-waisted pants. Those are very nearly guaranteed when you choose wisely and indulge in a little Van Damme of an evening.
Here we go!
1. JCVD (2008)
I think if you're going to watch only one Van Damme movie, make it this one. JC plays himself in it and it's clearly semi-autobiographical. It's a clever little tongue-in-cheek Belgian film not unlike Dog Day Afternoon, and although you don't get much in the way of cool fighting, I defy anyone to watch it and not develop a soft spot for the Muscles from Brussels.
Okay, now on to the classics!
2. Hard Target (1993)
I was tempted to list this first, because it has everything that makes a JCVD flick great. JC plays a Cajun (as he often does in movies set in North America, when he's not playing a Quebecois). Highlights: JC sports a powerful Jheri-curled mullet, punches a rattlesnake, and you get to see Wilford Brimley as a moonshine brewer. Miles of ridiculous plot and fighting, plus a token sassy black lady.
3. Bloodsport (1988)
Major bromance in this one! What I like about Bloodsport is that it's your classic fight movie, the story revolving around revenge and culminating in a climactic battle scene. Lots of training montages, tons of combat, a Hong Kong setting, not too much extraneous plot, TONS of splits (including ones performed using a rudimentary training device) plus some sexxoring and shameless rear nudity.
4. The Shepherd (2008)
This gets big points because JC spends much of the movie carrying around a bunny, plus he's Cajun. You can't top that. Plot is just over-the-top enough and the fight scenes are great. Bonus: one of the villains is foxy.
5. In Hell (2003)
Set in the Eastern Bloc, this one is simply a good movie, in my opinion. Then again, I like movies set in prisons for some kinky reason. You won't get a ton of cool stunts from In Hell, but on the flip-side, JC is spared delivering corny one-liners and does a very nice job as a plain old actor. I'm 75% sure JC is Cajun in this one, though they don't really tell you.
6. Timecop (1994)
This movie has it all! Time-travel, corrupt politicians, revenge, the best JC kitchen-sink split scene ever, sexxoring, spinning hopping roundhouse kicks to the villains' heads… JC's accent is left a mystery.
7. Double Impact (1991)
Here is all you need to know: JC plays his own long-lost identical twin. Bonuses: splits (as pictured), a bit of bromance, and JC's accent is explained as one of the twins was raised in France, the other in a Hong Kong orphanage overseen by a French nun.
8. Double Team (1997)
So horrid it's got to be good. This disbelief-fest co-stars Dennis Rodman (who gets about five hair color changes throughout the course of the film) and is rife with basketball puns. There is a nice training montage scene in which JC makes innovative use of a doorway, among other improvised gym apparati. The story reaches a dizzying climax involving landmines and a baby and JC side-kicking a tiger just before the Colosseum asplodes.
9. Sudden Death (1995)
Die Hard, with hockey! Set at the Stanley cup and featuring precocious children, my husband thought this movie was near perfect, with the exception of the wholly unnecessary scene in which JC suits up as a Penguins goalie whilst eluding terrorists and goes out onto the ice…a scene that could have been cut without disrupting any other aspect of the story. If I recall correctly, JC is Quebecois.
10. The Quest (1996)
This one was loosely based on the life of the same martial artist who inspired Bloodsport—Frank Dux. It's a sort of globe-trekking adventure that features training montages, split-kicks, and JC running about in clown make-up at the very beginning.
11. Universal Soldier (1992)
JC plays a [presumably] Cajun war vet turned government-engineered killing machine. I liked this one…and I don't really like sci-fi, generally. It co-stars Dolph Lundgren as the baddie, and there is some shameless glistening rear-nudity as well as lots of JC getting dunked in icy baths.
12. Until Death (2007)
This was an interesting one…pretty dark. JC is a dirty cop who's addicted to heroin. He later ends up in a coma and wakes up a better man. I can't remember all that much else about it, though I'm fairly certain he's Cajun once again.
13. Desert Heat (1999)
Not like any other JC film I can think of… JC (who may be Cajun, I can't recall) goes to the Southwest someplace, and he has a foot-rubbing bromance going on with a wacky Native American guy. JC also has a threesome with a couple trashy blondes (witnessed by a pervy snakehandler woman), all whilst killing lots of evil rednecks on a mission to gets hisself some revenge! Again, I thought one of the evil rednecks was cute, so that helped. Also, JC is all beat up for a lot of it, and a bruised and vulnerable man turns my kinky crank. Oh and Mister Miyagi is in it!
14. Nowhere to Run (1993)
This one's actually listed in IMDb as both action and romance. JC is on the run from the feds and takes shelter in the home of a woman and her almost ludicrously precocious children. There is some disconcerting mother-child chat about JC's contentious wang size, but I believe there's a bit of rear-nudity that'll make up a few lost points.
15. The Order (2001)
Dan Brown may have written this, possibly while drunk… It's a mix of Angels and Demons and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, set in Israel. Some innovative chase scenes and some interesting weaponry at the end, but not one of my favorites…although you do get to see JC in disguise as a Hassidic Jew.
16. Legionnaire (1998)
Starts out with some sexy scenes of a French JC as a boxer (my personal Kryptonite). He refuses to throw a fight and is shipped off to the Foreign Legion, where he battles corruption and hitmen to get back to his jilted fiancée. Dusty! Bromance! Also, not too corny, though not one of the more memorable films.
17. Derailed (2002)
Nearly set in the Eastern Bloc, this is a better version of Seagal's Under Siege II. JC and his wife and kids are on a train along with a vixeny jewel thief, and chaos ensues! Also a bit like Speed, on a train. Or Die Hard, on a train. Okay overall, the highlights being some ridonkulous stunts featuring JC on a motorbike…on a train! If he'd done a split between two cars, that would have bumped it up the list.
18. Cyborg (1989)
This was an interesting one…post-Apocalyptic and a bit like Beyond Thunderdome, only set in the States and without all the flash and Tina Turner. JC does a notably fine split in a sewer in aid of escaping the baddies.
19. Death Warrant (1990)
Whee! JC is Quebecois! He plays a detective investigating a serial killer. JC goes undercover to solve some prison murders (with the aid of a three-way inmate bromance) and by the end some decently choreographed fighting goes down (though not enough, really), culminating a largely satisfyingly O-T-T climax.
20. Lionheart (1990)
Once again, JC is in the Foreign Legion. This time he escapes and makes it to the States and becomes a fighter on a shady underground circuit. Prepare yourself for split-kicks and interracial bromance! I suspect but can not guarantee that there was some rear nudity. My notes also say there were "leotards", but I can't recall how those actually fit in.
21. Kickboxer (1989)
I love a good fight movie, though this one was just okay. The highlights were that it had tons of training montages, and JC was actually allowed to be Belgian! Holy shit, what an idea! Super-bonus, JC performed splits using a special training device! It also featured a bromance (emphasis on the bro) to be reckoned with plus an additional interracial bromance, a soundtrack to be defied, and one weird zip-up-coveralls-tanktop you have to see for yourself.
22. Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)
JC is back as everybody's favorite Cajun war vet turned super-secret government killing machine. No Dolph Lundgren, but instead you get WWE wrestler Goldberg as the baddie. Goldberg's acting makes JC look like Sir Lawrence Olivier. There is a super-lame evil computer that takes over the top secret government facility, a total HAL-from-2001 rip-off. And there's an adorable child in peril.
23. Maximum Risk (1996)
I honestly don't remember much about this one…I know it's set in Europe and JC plays a man who finds out he had a twin when he discovers said twin's dead body. The brother was a cop who was murdered and JC has to pretend to be him in order to unravel the mystery. Sadly, a bit forgettable, though that film still pictured left sure looks exciting…
24. Knock Off (1998)
Oh Lordy, Knock Off… I had to bump this one up from the depths of the gutter because my husband passionately flip-flopped and decided he liked it. We watched it in two installments because the first time around we both lost the will to live. It co-stars Rob Reiner in a love/hate bromance with JC and the plot revolves around counterfeit designer jeans. In Hong Kong. With explosive terrorist devices hidden in them which asplode with green smoke. I grudgingly admit it had a few innovative fight scenes, but it was also wincingly slapstick and featured a token sassy black lady.
25. Wake of Death (2004)
If I remember correctly, there was some hot sexxoring (and hence rear-nudity) at the start of this movie…then JC's immigration official wife [rather unprofessionally] brings home a refugee girl from a bust and ends up murdered by the Chinese mob. A lot of people end up murdered, actually, and JC has to avenge them all and save the little girl.
26. Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)
Set in the Eastern Bloc, this film's got very little action, and very little JC, actually. Very little Dolph Lundgren too, which is a waste. JC's stunts are still solid even though he's getting older, but his role is dull and the movie is generally boring, though nicely filmed. Bonus: I thought the bad guy was sexy—fighter Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski. JC is once again Cajun.
27. Replicant (2001)
Weird one…and nearly another twin flick. JC plays two unlikable characters, one a creepy Norman Bates-ian momma's boy serial killer and the other a "replicant"—a borderline retarded clone engineered from the killer's DNA to allegedly help track the killer down. The real protagonist is not JC-as-retard but a crusty detective overseeing the case. The only bonus here is the unexpected (though my husband totally predicted it) fucktarded romantic twist at the very end… Cannot tell you how deeply I questioned my marriage when my husband called that ending.
28. Breakin' (1984)
Rated low because it's really not a JCVD movie, though JC's role as an unnamed extra is priceless. I'm not one to mock the man, but check it out if you want to see a young JC grinning and dancing in a unitard, fresh off the plane from Brussels to Hollywood. And if you're looking to watch a better period movie about break-dancing, check out Beat Street.
29. Black Eagle (1988)
An oddity, in that JC is not the star. The lead is played by Kung Fu star Sho Kosugi, but young JC, a minor villain, steals a lot of Sho's thunder. With some meager bonus points for campiness, this movie is a bit blah overall but ties with Time Cop for Most Extreme Use of a Split.
30. The Hard Corps (2006)
Oh sweet fuck, prepare to be insulted. JC plays a bodyguard / bodyguard trainer for a sassy black lady's rap star brother and his entourage. You're never once told what city or state you're in, and JC's accent isn't acknowledged or explained. It's only a couple training montages that keep it from falling to the bottom of the pile, plus a bit of bromance.
31. Second in Command (2006)
I nearly put this one last as it's just plain boring. JC doesn't get to fight at all really, and the plot isn't very dynamic. Eensty points for being set in the Eastern Bloc.
32. Street Fighter: The Movie (1995)
Comes in dead-last because it is a) super insulting to even a child's intelligence and b) features very little fighting, street or otherwise. I'll forgive a movie many things if it has good martial arts sequences, and this one did not. JC's talents were wasted and even Raul Julia couldn't save the film…for that matter, neither could Kylie Minogue. The film is set in Hong Kong and JC is freakishly American, emblazoned with an unconvincing stars and stripes tattoo, yet no one acknowledges his Belgian accent… I can't in good conscience recommend this to anyone. It's so bad it's not even camp. It also has a majorly corny ending that made my soul hurt.
And that's it, folks. Sorry to put you through that, but I hope you'll all leave your desks feeling a little wiser and a little more endeared to old JCVD. I strongly urge you, the next time you're torn between Van Damme and Seagal, to err on the side of JC, the side not afraid to take a punch, or to kick a tiger, or to bite the head off a rattler, or to show some ass. Et merci de votre attention.