Thursday, Jan. 08, 2009

Jean-Claude Van Damme


"I should have been dead a couple of times," the Belgian martial-arts star says of a Hollywood lifestyle full of hard drugs, fast women and loose money. "But something is holding me here. I've got a good star." Just now, a little starlight is shining on Van Damme, 48, whose career had long languished in the direct-to-DVD bin. In Mabrouk El Mechri's JCVD, the "Muscles from Brussels" plays a worn-out, washed-up celeb named Jean-Claude Van Damme who gets tangled in a bank heist and must confront his own demons as well as the usual flying bullets, fists and feet. Being himself was a cauterizing risk for the macho man, but Van Damme rose to the challenge: the centerpiece is not a high-kicking fight with the bad guys but a six-minute monologue in which Van Damme reduces himself to tears by confessing the sins of his stardom. "I was dying to say something to people with more education than myself but who didn't dream as much as I had, and explain maybe that's why I became JCVD." The performance may not get Van Damme back into the big-studio productions he yearns for — Quentin Tarantino may never call — but it's the work of a daring, questing, real actor. "We cannot judge people by their first apparition," he says. "Like Arnold Schwarzenegger — in the beginning he was only seen as an action hero. Now he is a governor."

Reported by Lina Lofaro