JCVD wastes little time working itself into a pretzel. The action begins under the credits with Jean-Claude Van Damme working his way through a crazy urban battlefield accompanied by a Curtis Mayfield blaxploitation ballad. As funny as anything in Tropic Thunder, this exceedingly long take ends with a falling flat (the aging actor having missed his mark) and a tantrum thrown by the movie's Chinese director. Van Damme is next seen in family court fighting for custody of his daughter as his wife's attorney enters his DVDs as evidence against him. Suddenly, he's back in his Belgian hometown, where it's not long before he finds himself in a Jean-Claude Van Damme situation, held hostage in the local post office. Crowds of fans surge outside while the cops, who have set up a command center in the local video store, think that he's the hostage-taker. JCVD is all about the hassle of being JCVD, but self-parody effectively precludes self-pity. In the most remarkable sequence, this hitherto limited actor launches into a lengthy soliloquy on his reasons for making this movie, explaining why he took up karate and recounting his feelings about celebrity (as well as America, women, and drugs). It's near risible, but who would dare laugh? Jean-Claude is really crying! What exactly is JCVD? Comedy? Confession? Confusion? No one will ever mistake these backstage shenanigans for Irma Vep. But as a self-regarding expression of masculine angst, it's a Damme sight more fun than Synecdoche, New York.
Van Damme tries to recapture the good old days.
Opens at Meridian, Fri., Nov. 21. Not rated. 96 minutes.