Timecop is an obvious classic: Van Damme’s highest grossing movie, earning over $100 million worldwide upon its release in 1994. That’s like almost a billion dollars in real terms or something. For those of you that haven’t heard of it, the premise is about as simple as the title suggest (JC movies have a habit of that) with JC playing a time travelling cop who works for the TEC (Time Enforcement Commission, really) whose job it is enforce time – I guess by stopping bad guys from using sub machine guns to rob bullion off Confederate soldiers and other such nefarious schemes. The vaguely complicated plot involves JC faffing about through the timestream trying to prevent his wife’s death and stopping evil politician Ron Silver from taking over the world or something. In a future echo (see what I did there) of pretty much every season of 24, he’s forced to go rogue and commandeer a time machine in order to figure it all out. I guess that kind of thing was edgy back then though before Jack Bauer did it every week for eight years. Admittedly though the film features a lot of cool moments and perhaps many people’s defining image of Van Damme as he does the splits on a work surface in his boxers to avoid being electrocuted by a puddle of water gradually drifting towards him.
Street Fighter is another one of Van Damme’s more famous films and was also released in 1994. What a year for movies! JC faced his most challenging role to date in this movie: playing computer game character Lt. William F. Guile (Sonic Boom!) from the much loved arcade game Street Fighter. The plot didn’t really make any sense or have any relation to the video game except that they managed to include almost all of the Street Fighter characters to some degree. Basically M. Bison had taken over some fictional country in South East Asia and was demanding $30million dollars or he blows it up or something. The Allied Nations, led by Guile, have to sort this out and various other Street Fighter characters are involved e.g. Chun Li is a news reporter, Ryu and Ken are some joker arms dealers who got involved somehow, and Dhalsim is barely recognisable as some scientist without stretchy limbs (the first time I saw it I didn’t even realise it was him until the end credits). This alteration of the main character’s motivations was probably why the movie was so badly received. Although the film made three times its budgets both critics and fans thought it was awful and confusing although the late, great Raul Julia (who was also in the Addams Family movies) was universally praised for his role as evil dictator M. Bison. Despite this criticism, it is really easy to geek out at the end when all the characters are outside the ruined temple and they all do their victory poses from the game.
The Quest might be an unusual choice but I feel like it deserves a mention due to the fact that it also mark’s JC’s directorial debut and bizarrely features former 007 Roger Moore in a rare role as some kind of rich Lord who buys Van Damme’s freedom from some pirates and enters him into an international martial arts tournament held in Tibet so that he can win a statue of a Golden Dragon for him. Previous to this JC was the leader of a group of street urchins living rough on the streets of New York, who was forced to seek refuge on a pirate ship to avoid being arrested. How do they come up with this shit? Anyway, this film is cool because the second half of it is pretty much just a bunch of dramatic tournament fighting, kind of like how a movie of Street Fighter should have turned out instead of the stupid mess that came out. I mean each of the fighters even has a distinct style, with one of them even being a Sumo Wrestler…E. Honda anyone? Maybe this was JC’s reaction to how crap Street Fighter actually turned out.
Knock Off may not be one of JC’s biggest hits but it has a special place in my heart because when i was living in Toronto I went on a date with a girl and we went back to hers to watch TV and it was on and she was really impressed when I knew that the big race at the start wasn’t going to take place in all the flash ferraris that were driving around but rather in rickshaws. You hear that folks: knowing your JCVD films is a guaranteed way to get into Canadian girl’s pants. Anyway, in this one, released in 1998, JC is a Hong Kong fashion designer (sure) who decides to turn his back on his previous life as a knock off artist and team up with Rob Schneider (who later played Deuce Bigelow:Male Gigolo) to launch a new range of jeans. Things aren’t what they seem though as Schneider turns out to be a CIA agent investigating the knock off industry in Hong Kong which ends up having ties to the Russian mafia (of course) who are trying to smuggle the dangerous new technology ‘microbombs’ (bombs which explode with a green flame…right) onto the world terrorist black market. Inevitably, despite merely being a fashion designer who races rickshaws in his spare time, JC has to kick a bunch of ass to sort this out.
Now, this is a slightly more interesting idea and one that I’ve unfortunately not had the pleasure of seeing or even more surprisingly had never ever even heard of (I am pretty on top of things/kind of a big deal in the movie world). Released about ten years after his last big Hollywood hit in 2008, JCVD tells the story of JC’s return to Belgium after drug, money and marital problems have taken their toll in the states and his career is in decline, with JC playing himself and actually talking in Belgian. At least it’s subtitled so I assume it’s Belgian…but is that even a language? Maybe it’s in French. Anyway, the movie sells itself as the first ‘real’ acting that JC has ever been involved in and that he delivers a performance that has been described as ‘memorable’, ‘emotional’ and ‘Oscar-worthy’, with one movie blog claiming that JCVD does for JC what Revolver did for Jason Statham. I’m struggling to determine what this could actually be so I can only assume it has something to do with the fact that nobody really saw either. As my love of metafiction is probably already apparent from a bunch of my posts on this site (see Internet Fact or Fiction) and the fact I clearly dig Bret Easton Ellis, this movie really piqued my interest and I expect to download and review it on this site shortly so watch out for that. Although having already seen I’m Still Here I don’t really have that high hopes for it.
Other than JCVD, recently JC’s career seems to have mysteriously petered out with many of his movies being released straight to DVD, although he did impressively (stupidly?) turn down a role in the recent action movie spectacular The Expendables after a personal phone call from Sylvester Stallone offering him a part as it was allegedly ‘of little substance’ and he ‘didn’t want his career going down that path’. Sorry what? The career that currently consists of making straight to DVD action movies (sometimes reprising the roles of characters that were famous almost 20 years ago – see Universal Soldier: Regeneration and the recently announced (seriously) Universal Soldier: The Next Generation) and ridiculous metafiction movies that few people ever even knew existed. Ok, in fairness I guess Weapon is expected to clean up at this year’s straight to DVD Oscars but turning down a role in The Expendables? COME ON! Too many steroids/coke JC.
Have I missed your favourite Jean Claude Van Damme movie? Well, I apologise but as you probably know there are a hell of a lot of classics on his resume. Feel free to enlighten me of yours.