Jean-Claude Van Damme

Timecop (1994, Peter Hyams)

Timecop is deceptively competent. Sort of. There’s often something off about it, but then director Hyams will do something else decent and distract. Hyams also manages to get a perfectly serviceable performance out of lead Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme’s unsure, cautious performance–he tries to understate his terrible attempts at one-liners–is a great counter to Ron Silver’s bad guy.

Silver’s all over the place, the evil senator out to use time travel to win the presidental election and go after “special interests.” Who knew Timecop would be so prescient. Anyway, Silver’s a caricature playing a caricature. He’s definitely evil; he’s just nothing more.

Some of what’s wrong is the plotting. Timecop has a full plot, it just doesn’t have any character development. It’s like someone went through and chucked it. Van Damme’s wife dies mysterious. He’s haunted. And he’s a timecop. Even though he doesn’t do much as a timecop. The movie apparently doesn’t have the budget for multiple jaunts, just a couple before Van Damme is only jumping back to 1994.

You know it’s the past because there aren’t the future cars of 2004. They’re bulky self-driving things. Their design is unfortunate, but there’s a certain dedication to the special effects and design work. It’s like Hyams refused to be dismissive of the concept and he was going to do whatever he could.

Mia Sara’s okay as Van Damme’s wife, though she’s only around to be a damsel in distress and to beg Van Damme for nookie. Screenwriter Mark Verheiden does caricature, never anything more. When he gets around to a contradictory character, someone who can’t just be a thin caricature, he dumps the character as soon as possible.

It’s what happens to Gloria Rueben. She’s not good, but she’s kind of likable. She’s not as likable as Bruce McGill, who has to pretend to give a crap about time travel exposition. He’s Van Damme’s gritty boss who’s really just a softie.

The rest of the cast is the seemingly endless group of thugs Silver sends after Van Damme. Some of the resulting fight scenes are good, but Hyams drags it out too long. The movie’s not even a hundred minutes and the last third has multiple slowdowns. There’s an action set piece on a Victorian house’s roof. First, how does Van Damme afford such a big house in the DC area. Second, it’s boring. Van Damme can’t high kick or do the splits while he’s crawling around the roof–in a rainstorm–trying to save Sara (again). Hyams’s direction of the sequence doesn’t suggest any great interest in doing an action scene on a Victorian house’s roof. Nothing about the architecture actually lends itself to the sequence. Someone must have really wanted an action scene on a house roof.

By the third act, the absence of character development and transitional scenes have caught up with Timecop. Even the time travel-related story twists get tired. The movie’s hook isn’t Van Damme’s fighting, it isn’t the time travel, it isn’t the special effects. So what’s the hook supposed to be? Ron Silver ostensibly slumming only to be revealed as a perfect B-movie villain? Sloane Peterson? Certainly not Hyam’s cinematography (he’ll compose a perfectly good shot then screw it up with the lighting). Not Mark Isham’s simultaneously derivative and generic sci-fi movie score.

Timecop’s a disappointment. Hyams appears to know better, but doesn’t do better. I mean, Sam Raimi produced Timecop. He must have know the lighting was a big problem in the dailies.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Mark Verheiden, based on a story by Mike Richardson and Verheiden and a comic book by Richardson and Verheiden; edited by Steven Kemper; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Moshe Diamant, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Max), Mia Sara (Melissa), Ron Silver (McComb), Bruce McGill (Matuzak), Gloria Reuben (Fielding), Scott Bellis (Ricky), and Jason Schombing (Atwood).


Hard Target (1993, John Woo), the unrated version

There’s nothing spectacularly wrong with Hard Target. It’s a competently executed early nineties action movie. There’s a lot of good stunt work and some amazing pyrotechnics. Lance Henriksen is great as the villain. Wilford Brimley is in it as a Cajun assault archer. Almost everything about it is absurd, but not really out of the ordinary for the genre. It even tries for serious with a little bit of social consciousness–Henriksen is playing the most dangerous game with homeless veterans.

Director Woo is fantastic at making the perfunctory plot points seem sincere. He’ll slow down the close-up, leaving the viewer to inspect the actor’s reaction to something. Usually it’s Butler seeing lead Jean-Claude Van Damme do some amazing feat. One time he’s just standing there and it’s Butler in awe of the standing Van Damme. That scene is an example of something else wrong–but not spectacularly so–with Hard Target. No one’s willing to have any fun. Not even Brimley, when he finally shows up.

There’s no humor in Chuck Pfarrer’s script–at least no successful humor–but Van Damme’s character is particularly thin. He’s a man of mystery. So Woo’s impulse is to go for charming man of mystery and Van Damme botches it. Van Damme can’t even wink. He’ll make these single rapid eye movements towards a character and everyone pretends it’s a wink. He’s without charm.

But Van Damme’s not unbearable. His pseudo-Cajun accent needs work and he looks like a romance cover hero, not a down-on-his-luck street fighting merchant seaman. His stringy mullet is funny, especially once all the stunts start up and you have to wonder if Van Damme had to have the mullet because his mullet-wearing stuntmen aren’t willing to cut theirs off. And Woo’s direction of a couple Van Damme fight scenes is excellent. The fist fight isn’t Woo’s interest though; even when there are fisticuffs in post-first act fight scenes, Woo rushes to get guns in those hands. Van Damme’s not great at the gunfights, but then he starts doing somersaults through the air and seems happy again. Lots of flips in Hard Target. None of them convincing and they get old fast.

Luckily, they’re in the finale so it doesn’t matter. It’s all almost over.

There are some good performances. Henriksen, most of Arnold Vosloo (as Henriksen’s sidekick), Willie C. Carpenter; Kasi Lemmons is okay as the one cop. There’s a strike going on, which seems like it might be a subplot but isn’t. Hard Target doesn’t do subplots.

Leading lady Yancy Butler is pretty slight. Woo wants a lot of emoting. Butler emotes a little less than Van Damme, who’s got the emotional range of a rock pile. Thanks to Bob Murawski’s editing, occasionally Woo can imply something from Butler for a moment or two. It’s not like Chuck Pfarrer’s script gives her any depth either. Thank goodness for Woo.

Nice photography from Russell Carpenter. Nice editing from Murawski. Awful music from Graeme Revell.

Despite Woo’s direction, Henriksen’s villainy, the New Orleans locations, and the strong technical competence, Hard Target doesn’t click. The major action set pieces of the second half disappoint. Because the movie needs a sense of humor. Not Brimley drying gnawing at the scenery.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; written by Chuck Pfarrer; director of photography, Russell Carpenter; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Phil Dagort; produced by Sean Daniel and James Jacks; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Chance Boudreaux), Lance Henriksen (Fouchon), Yancy Butler (Nat), Arnold Vosloo (Van Cleef), Kasi Lemmons (Mitchell), Willie C. Carpenter (Elijah), and Wilford Brimley (Uncle Douvee).


The Expendables 2 (2012, Simon West)

The Expendables 2 plays a lot like an eighties “G.I. Joe” toy commercial. The vehicles all fire missiles and have detachable smaller vehicles. As opposed to having absurdly named characters with silly themes (there’s no “ninja Expendable”), the characters instead have silly names and amusing personalities. The script, from Sylvester Stallone and Richard Wenk, throws realism out the window, gets way too meta for its own good (the Terminator jokes for Arnold Schwarzenegger are immediately tiresome), but a lot of the character work is good.

The best performances are from the returning principals–Stallone, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Dolph Lundgren. While Stallone only has one good scene–opposite new (and female) Expendable Nan Yu–and Statham’s just reliable, Couture, Crews and Lundgren are hilarious. Their little asides, while absurd, often make the movie.

As for the rest… Schwarzenegger is terrible, Chuck Norris is an unbelievably bad actor (one imagines Lee Strasberg turning in his grave at every line), Jean-Claude Van Damme’s villainous (doubly, since his name is “Vilain”) but disposable and Bruce Willis is okay if slightly embarrassed.

In supporting roles, Liam Hemsworth’s awful as another new Expendable but Scott Adkins’s decent as bad guy.

Shelly Johnson’s cinematography is weak, as is Bryan Tyler’s music, but a lot of Expendables 2 is passable. Even if it does heavily rip off Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Simon West’s action is intense but cartoonish, which also describes the entire project.

Better plotting would’ve helped a bunch.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Simon West; screenplay by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Wenk and characters created by Dave Callaham; director of photography, Shelly Johnson; edited by Todd E. Miller; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Paul Cross; produced by Danny Lerner, Les Weldon, Basil Iwanyk, John Thompson, Avi Lerner and Kevin King Templeton; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Barney Ross), Jason Statham (Lee Christmas), Jet Li (Yin Yang), Dolph Lundgren (Gunner Jensen), Chuck Norris (Booker), Jean-Claude Van Damme (Vilain), Bruce Willis (Church), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Trench), Terry Crews (Hale Caesar), Randy Couture (Toll Road), Liam Hemsworth (Billy the Kid), Scott Adkins (Hector), Nan Yu (Maggie), Amanda Ooms (Pilar) and Charisma Carpenter (Lacy).


Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009, John Hyams)

Wow, Peter Hyams made the only sequel to a Stanley Kubrick film and now he’s the director of photography on garbage like Universal Soldier: Regeneration. What’s so exceptionally lame about this movie is Hyams–the director–and the screenwriter’s disinterest is making an interesting story for original stars Jean-Claude Van Damme (though he comes a little closer) and Dolph Lundgren (but Lundgren’s apparently finally learned to act, from his thirty-some lines) and instead want to make a franchise for Mike Pyle, who plays a moronic U.S. soldier.

Interesting, though I’m sure unintentional is the film’s politics–basically, the U.S. is filled with war junkies who put their noses in places don’t belong.

Pyle’s performance is exceptionally bad and the movie doesn’t even give him a fun death scene. I’d been waiting like an hour to watch him get decapitated but it’s really just a bunch of nonsense to set up a sequel.

Given Van Damme’s absurdly small part–I hate feeling like I want to see more Van Damme–I wonder if the filmmakers added he and Lundgren as an afterthought, instead of just doing the adventures of Pyle the redneck Universal Soldier.

Peter Hyams always shot his own films poorly and he doesn’t do his son any favors. Regeneration looks like someone did a contrast filter in Photoshop (maybe Hyams did, it’s probably easier). The DV is bad looking, especially with the lighting.

Laughable performances from Corey Johnson and Garry Cooper, but Emily Joyce does fine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Hyams; screenplay by Victor Ostrovsky, based on characters created by Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch and Dean Devlin; director of photography, Peter Hyams; edited by Jason Gallagher and John Hyams; music by Kris Hill and Michael Krassner; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Craig Baumgarten and Moshe Diamant; released by Foresight Unlimited.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Luc Deveraux), Dolph Lundgren (Andrew Scott), Andrei Arlovski (NGU), Mike Pyle (Captain Kevin Burke), Corey Johnson (Col. John Coby), Garry Cooper (Dr. Porter), Emily Joyce (Dr. Sandra Flemming), Zahary Baharov (Commander Topov), Aki Avni (General Boris) and Kerry Shale (Dr. Colin).


JCVD (2008, Mabrouk El Mechri)

JCVD might be the ultimate vanity project. I’m not sure if there’s any intention in Van Damme trying to rehabilitate his image–his fans will be his fans no matter what, something the film touches on–but it’s kind of spectacular in its purity. Van Damme’s a well-known punch line, a leftover from the 1990s, and he knows it. What’s strangest about the film is that self-awareness. Van Damme gives a good performance as “himself,” even if his movie personality is a little different (more affecting but generally true) than the real Van Damme.

It’s a rouse–there’s a long aside, which starts on shaky ground because of its presentation (and what’s a theatrical aside doing in a rather cinéma vérité film) but eventually comes around because Van Damme’s actually really good delivering it. He kind of loses it at the end, but due to the presentation technicalities, not his delivery. But part of JCVD is accepting the rouse, participating in it. It’s Van Damme laughing at himself, but not so much, because he’s one of maybe three people who could make a movie like this one.

Nothing I’d read about the film actually prepared me for its actual content. JCVD drops a cheesy action movie star in the middle of a real bank robbery. That Van Damme’s in his native Belgium where everyone loves him–regardless of this detail’s veracity, it’s constantly amusing–turns the unlikely situation into Dog Day Afternoon. The dynamics of the bank robbery are what set JCVD apart. It’s a movie situation handled in an anti-cinematic manner. The bank is awkwardly laid-out, so it’s hard to know where people are located, not the ideal for the hostage drama. The dynamic between the robbers–one idolizes Van Damme, another is seriously disturbed, none are very smart–provides a lot of drama to the film, which lets Van Damme sort of be.

Van Damme’s bad day–a failed custody hearing, money troubles, career woes–all comes off as a little contrived. It’s effective because of El Mechri and his approach. There are frequent small cuts to give off the vérité feel; they work, even if they’re somewhat suspect. And Van Damme’s willing to mock himself, his image and everything else. But he’s mostly laughing at the audience, because the film’s positing its Van Damme could never do anything like this film, this singularity in a career otherwise exclusively straight to DVD, but here he is doing it and succeeding at it.

In the end, Van Damme doesn’t actually pull it off. He tries to though and makes the grade for effort. It’s strange to watch him act in the last scenes, because he’s trying real, real hard, but he can’t attain the sublime. But it’s fine acting and the film’s full of it. But since he’s the whole show, it’s hard to talk about anyone else.

If JCVD were a coda, it’d be a coda to a career undeserving of it, but it’s not a coda. Even if it’s unable to achieve the singularity it’s going for, it’s still distinct.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri; written by Frédéric Bénudis, Mechri and Christophe Turpin; director of photography, Pierre-Yves Bastard; edited by Lako Kelber; music by Gast Waltzing; produced by Sidonie Dumas; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD), François Damiens (Bruges), Zinedine Soualem (the man with the bonnet), Karim Belkhadra (the watchmen), Jean-François Wolff (the thirty-one-year old) and Anne Paulicevich (the clerk).


Bloodsport (1988, Newt Arnold)

At least Bloodsport is earnest. It’s also atrocious and unwatchable, but it is earnest. It really thinks the scenes with Jean-Claude Van Damme staring into space and flashing back to his childhood are a good idea. It thinks the crappy dialogue is okay. It thinks casting very recognizable (as the Hong Kong gangster from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) Roy Chiao as a Japanese guy is okay. For all the Cannon movies I’ve seen… I think Bloodsport might actually be the worst made.

The movie has absolutely nothing going for it, except conjuring the image of a Bloodsport rerelease box touting the presence of (now) Academy Award winning Forest Whitaker. Newt Arnold–who apparently did a lot of second unit work–cannot compose a shot, cannot move a camera, cannot direct actors. The writing’s laughable and only made worse by the performances.

It doesn’t open with Van Damme, which turns out to be a bad idea. Instead, it opens with a montage of the preparations for a highly secretive (and now presumably fictional) martial arts competition. This montage was, I think, meant to be classy, but thanks to the music, it’s a joke. The bigger joke is Donald Gibb getting the focus of the opening montage–Gibb is a recognizable big and gruff guy, he’s got lots of TV bit parts in his filmography–since he can’t even deliver a line.

Van Damme’s awful, but in a funny way. His earnestness comes through, but the acting in Bloodsport is like a public access commercial for a plumber. It really is the worst Cannon movie I can remember seeing–part of, anyway. I had to stop a few seconds after Leah Ayres shows up. It just gets too moronic.

I realized, as I stopped the movie, I haven’t been watching a lot of movies this bad lately. I only tried Bloodsport again because I remember thinking it was really good when I was nine (was I wrong) and I’d heard, ten years later, it was decent. Then the widescreen DVD came out and I kept tripping over references to it, so I rented it.

Bloodsport and its genre–the white guy martial artist–ended up direct-to-video pretty quick (and the whole genre got a footing because of video) and it’s embarrassing. I’m sure there are now direct-to-DVD movies just as bad–worse probably, thanks to the cheapness of video–but there’s an unfortunate legitimacy to these movies. They did indeed get theatrical releases. People did go and see them. Major newspapers did… occasionally… review them.

I couldn’t even get to the fighting scenes.

Someone needs to interview Whitaker about all the crap he’s made, I’m sure he’d be in good humor about it and it’d be funny to hear his stories.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Newt Arnold; screenplay by Christopher Cosby, Mel Friedman and Sheldon Lettich, based on a story by Lettich; director of photography, David Worth; edited by Carl Kress; music by Paul Hertzog; production designer, David Searl; produced by Mark DiSalle, Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Frank Dux), Donald Gibb (Ray Jackson), Leah Ayres (Janice Kent), Norman Burton (Helmer), Forest Whitaker (Rawlins), Roy Chiao (Tanaka), Philip Chan (Inspector Chen), Pierre Rafini (Young Frank), Bolo Yeung (Chong Li) and Ken Siu (Victor Lin).


Universal Soldier (1992, Roland Emmerich)

Universal Soldier is nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. The beginning is exceptionally painful, as Roland Emmerich does a Platoon impression. As bad as Charlie Sheen was in that film, however, nothing compares to Jean-Claude Van Damme as a farm boy from Louisiana or Dolph Lundgren’s attempts at conveying insanity. It’s painful.

And then it gets jokey.

It’s horrific.

But then, even with the incompetent writing, Ally Walker shows up and essentially saved my hour and forty minutes. Walker’s a decent actor, but her intrepid reporter somehow makes the ludicrous plot sound feasible (Walker does have a great voice).

The film’s concept is basically a mix of Robocop and Terminator, but done in such a way to be uninventive (Van Damme and Lundgren aren’t robots, so no neat cyborg moments) and cheap. Emmerich’s a terrible fight scene director and his action scenes, instead of relishing their absurdity and amplifying it to the extreme, are dull. And it’s still frequently impossible to know what’s going on.

But the movie’s watchable–there’s a bunch of good dumb bits, like Van Damme bare-assing it around a motel parking lot or the inexplicable scene with him beating up an entire diner. Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin have made careers out of going as cheap as possible for a positive audience reaction and Universal Soldier is no different.

Walker tempers the whole thing and Van Damme’s bad acting isn’t static. He has a couple scenes where he’s not atrocious. It’s amazing, given their wooden acting, neither he nor Lundgren can successfully stare absent-minded as the brainwashed super-soldiers. Jerry Orbach, pre-“Law & Order” legitimacy, has a small role and is silly. Not all of it’s his fault; the script’s just terrible.

Lundgren’s particularly awful for much of the movie, then all of a sudden he becomes hilarious. Once he gets his mind back (again, the script doesn’t make any sense), he’s having a ball. His performance in the movie’s second half suggests he should have done comedy.

The movie’s crap, but manages not to be too offensive throughout, only in parts. And I suppose it’s somewhat impressive how good Emmerich made a moderately budgeted production look.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch and Dean Devlin; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Michael J. Duthie; music by Christopher Franke; produced by Allen Shapiro, Craig Baumgarten and Joel B. Michaels; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Luc Deveraux), Dolph Lundgren (Andrew Scott), Ally Walker (Veronica Roberts), Ed O’Ross (Colonel Perry), Jerry Orbach (Dr. Christopher Gregor) and Leon Rippy (Woodward).


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