While it’s true that “JCVD” is far from Jean-Claude Van Damme’s last successful film, it is the one that has made the most cultural impact since his peak in the ’80s and ’90s. Critically, the film received high praise, garnering an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a 74% on the site’s fan-rating system. In general, critics praised the film for Van Damme’s performance, which goes out of its way to subvert and critique his legacy as an action star. In 2008, Time named his role the second-best movie performance of the year, underneath Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
In the film, Van Damme plays a fictionalized version of himself. After a series of unfortunate failures, from the decline of his action career to losing his daughter in a custody battle, Van Damme becomes involved in a tense bank robbery and hostage negotiation for which he has been framed as the perpetrator. These events culminate in a fourth-wall-breaking monologue where Van Damme spills the beans on everything from his drug problems to his multiple marriages. This speech became one of the film’s most praised moments, cementing the film as one of Van Damme’s most artistically fulfilling works.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Van Damme movie without a splash of fantasy action. In the end, however, the action is just the cherry on top. The real treat is watching Van Damme do something different after so many years, and still succeed.