Monday, 18 May 2015

Film Round-Up #9

I think anyone around my age will have grown up during the heyday of the 'action movie star' era and, like me, these lucky (?) people almost certainly revelled in the brainless, unrealistic mayhem and sizeable body-count the various stars left in their wake. Whilst never reaching the heights of Arnie or Sly, one of my favourites was always Jean-Claude Van Damme. Like many, however, I've generally only seen his earlier films (as indicated by the Top Five I did a while ago), so I recently decided to fix that by catching up some of the lesser-known later entries on his filmography. Here are the first five I watched, with another five likely to come later!

Hard Target (1993)

Van Damme was the actor credited with bringing HK legend John Woo to Hollywood and this film was the fruit of their labour. It's set in New Orleans where a bunch of trigger-happy rich dudes spend their time hunting homeless men for sport. When the daughter (Yancy Butler) of one of them comes to town looking for her father, she bumps into Chance Boudreaux (JCVD), the most well-kempt homeless man in the history of the world. Of course, when he helps her look into her father's disappearance, they become the target of the next hunt, led by the obsessive Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen). Cue lots of running, shooting, kicking, and explosions (as well as a decent number of doves) as Emil and his snarling henchmen chase the stupidly-named Chance and Nat across Louisiana. The most interesting acting performance is by Henriksen and the best non-action scenes are those featuring him, but the lashings of action are of the standard you would expect from Mr. Woo - brash but stylish and entertaining. Hard Target is neither his nor JVCD's finest hour but it's a passable enough, if silly effort... 6/10

Maximum Risk (1996)

After managing to woo Mr. Woo, it wasn't long before Van Damme's next collaboration with a veteran Hong Kong director, this time Ringo Lam, which was his U.S. début as well. It's set in France (initially) which means JCVD actually gets to speak his native tongue for once. He plays a cop in Nice who's called by his partner to inspect a freshly-discovered body that looks exactly like he does. It turns out Detective Alain Moreau (JCVD) has (or had) a twin brother he never knew about. Eager to learn more, though, he traces his brother back to New York where he assumes his identity to try and discover why he was killed. It's immediately clear that he was a bit of a big-shot in NYC and had links to the Bratva, and they are not very happy to see 'him' again! This isn't the first time Van Damme has played twin brothers in a film of course (see also 1991's Double Impact), but this is a much less Hollywood-ish affair and I actually rather enjoyed it. The dramatic scenes are passable and the action scenes are very decent, especially the numerous car chases. It even has Natasha Henstridge! Surprisingly entertaining... 7/10

In Hell (2003)

To be honest, I hadn't even heard of this one before spotting it on Netflix but I then felt obligated to give it a try, as I do with most of JCVD's films. Here he plays Kyle LeBlanc, an American (although no accent is attempted!) working in Russia who, upon finding his wife dead and seeing her killer get off on a technicality, decides to dish out his own justice by killing him. He's then swiftly bundled off to a predictably-harsh Russian prison where the Bratva inmates take a quick disliking to him, as does the chief prison guard who needs little excuse to send Kyle to solitary. In between stays he is forced into fighting matches organised by the guards, and who is the current champ? That's right, the top Bratva oaf, Valya. It probably sounds like another Death Warrant but Kyle is a very different character. He's no martial-arts expert - the fighting here is much less stylish and much more brutal, and JCVD's performance is more subdued than usual. It's clearly a low-budget film, with no-frills and few surprises on offer (besides Lawrence Taylor as the scary 'Inmate 451'), but it's strangely watchable too... 6/10

JCVD (2008)

Now this one is a bit different. It's actually very different, to all Van Damme's previous films and even all films I've seen before, really. He plays himself here - struggling for work, out of money, and returning to his home town in Belgium for a custody battle over his daughter. Upon entering a Post Office to receive a much-needed transfer, he finds it's being held-up and he's now a hostage too. Worse still, the police think he is responsible! It certainly is an unusual premise and it's either very brave or rather egotistical of Mr. Van Damme to get involved in a project like this, but the results did him more good than harm - the film was critically-acclaimed and his most successful for many years. Understandably it's very different to his usual style though. There's no fighting and very little action or violence of any kind, most of it's in French (obviously), and the actual film - much of which concerns the robbery - isn't really that great, but it serves as a revealing exposé on JCVD's life and includes a genuinely moving monologue from the man himself. A very intriguing film but not as great as I thought... 7/10

Six Bullets (2012)

The most recent selection for this Round Up, and still the most recent JCVD film I've seen, seemed like the most generic of the lot prior to watching. The main man this time plays a veteran mercenary called Samson Gaul who retires after he botches a job rescuing a child from a sex-slavery ring. But then, when an American MMA fighter arrives in Moldova for a match along with his wife and chirpy 14-year old daughter, the latter is quickly kidnapped for use in the aforementioned 'trade'. The distraught parents subsequently turn to Gaul who's still in the country, moping about, traumatised by his former mishap. Can they persuade him to come out of retirement? I guess the answer to that is pretty obvious, and indeed, along with their surprisingly effective help he's soon slicing, shooting, and exploding his way through the local assemblage of bad guys! It's all very predictable of course, but there are a couple of good fight scenes and the action is decent enough which, along a reasonable supporting cast, make this one fairly enjoyable. JCVD is starting to show his age a bit now though... 6/10


  1. I thought In Hell was awesome, it just wasn't the usual character for him. Great flick that I thought.. Six Bullets? Never heard of it.. Max Risk/Hard Target classics! lol I love these movies mate, so i appreciate the post :)

  2. Cheers, glad you liked it :) JCVD's usually seem to be oddly watchable, even if their quality is often lacking. I'll make a point of watching five more soon and doing another post like this :)

    1. Good stuff, I'm a sucker for these older action movies :)

  3. You're in for a treat then! I've been watching loads of old martial arts films lately, not just JCVD ones. Some I'd seen when they came out, others were new to me, and most of them were very cheesy :P

  4. Hey I'm doing some JCVD stuff too hehe ;)

    'Hard Target' is easily the best of the bunch here, 'Maximum Risk' wasn't too bad, I remember seeing that in the cinema.

  5. Haha, yeah, I saw :P I've been watching all sorts of crappy old martial arts films lately and I decided to group some of them together...

    I wasn't as keen on Hard Target as you - silly story and a super-over--the-top finale, but it's not bad as JCVD films go. I think Maximum Risk was my favourite here (by a whisker).