Where Does This Film Live?
Ramblings of a Pop Culture Junkie...
The first season of Jean Claude van Johnson recently premiered on Amazon Prime this month . This show stars the one, the only, JCVD. So, with what I’m sure will be the most kick-ass television program to ever be forged, I thought it would be a good time to use Jean Claude’s filmography to play a little game I like to call:
WHERE DOES THIS FILM LIVE?
THE PENTHOUSE (Best of the Best):
1. HARD TARGET (1993)
– To be fair, Mr. Van Damme’s filmography does not possess the highest of quality gems, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some really fun joints that would totally have a place in an actor’s penthouse. And for me this 1993 take on “The Most Dangerous Game” might be as fun as it gets for JCVD films. This is the Hollywood directorial debut of John Woo, and in my opinion, it’s his best American film. This film gives that poetic touch to the action scenes (a maximum use of slow motion along with some awkwardly awesome close-ups, especially the eyes) that his best Hong Kong flicks do, but none of his other Hollywood productions really seem to get. This film also has some of the best bad guy scenery chewing I’ve ever seen provided to us by Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo playing Emil Fouchon and Pik Van Cleef; big bad names don’t get any more bad ass than this. One thing I haven’t mentioned is Van Damme himself, and his performance is far and away the most troubling thing about the film. There’s a clear ambition here to make Van Damme a Stallone or Schwarzenegger on a much bigger platform, and he has a hard time pulling it off. He’s fine in the action scenes, but his over indulgence on one liners gets annoying quickly. Still, along with whatever is going on with his hair (not sure if you’d call it a mullet but there is a definite party going on in the back), he gives it his all, and you really will wish Woo and Van Damme had made more films together.
2. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (1992)
- I know a lot of people are going to see this pick as a nostalgic piece, and that’s fair. I was sixteen when this was released in theaters, a primo age to enjoy what was essentially the “B” version of the Schwarzenegger/Stallone match-up we never got (at least not until the last decade). However, when I saw this on a late summer afternoon in 1992 with a couple of friends, I walked out irritated and annoyed. I had a strong dislike of this film. I never watched it again until about ten years ago, and I’m not sure what changed my mind, but I had a hell of a time on that viewing and I’ve enjoyed the many viewings I’ve had since. First off, Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play SO well off each other. Dolph seems to be having the time of his life playing this sick, nutball character - he wears a necklace of human ears for one scene. Van Damme’s slower line deliveries along with his typical awkwardness around the opposite sex work very well considering his character is essentially a cyborg. And let’s talk about the opposite sex, because Ally Walker is downright amazing in this film as the female lead; I have a suspicion this character was nowhere near on paper what she got it to be in the film. She is seriously on a whole other level from everyone else in this movie, and I’ve always been a little sad we never got to see her really blossom as the movie star she could’ve been. Finally, the action scenes in this movie are bats*it insane, and the film is not afraid to be an R-rated action film, and we just don’t get enough of those anymore (at least that don’t have “Has Fallen” in the title). It’s also easily Roland Emmerich’s best film, but not sure if that’s saying much.
HONORABLE MENTIONS – KUNG FU PANDA 3 (2016), JCVD (2008)
THE SUBURBS (Maybe a little bland, but there are some interesting things going on)
1. THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)
- I don’t re-watch a lot of current movies unless they’re kid-oriented because I have a six-year-old daughter. I want to get in as much in of the current year’s film crop as I can for one thing, and secondly, I’m only getting older and there are a lot of films I want to watch. However, with that being said, I’ve seen “The Expendables 2” at least fifteen times, probably more. I have a hard time even calling it a good movie. It’s all over the damn place, especially that weird scene where Chuck Norris shows up for a few minutes and tells essentially Chuck Norris jokes even though he’s not playing himself. However, it’s an extremely watchable movie and JCVD has a lot to do with that. He’s the movie’s villain and his name is Vilain, which is both ridiculous and kind of awesome at the same time. But he’s fairly menacing, and they don’t hold back on the carnage in this one. Scott Adkins is also quite a bit of fun as his henchman, but not as fun of a name – it’s simply Hector. The final battle with Stallone and Van Damme along with a bunch of chains is a lot of fun and very well done; you will forget how old both of them are. For me it’s a good time; a great Saturday afternoon time waster.
2. Sudden Death (1995)
- Of course, Van Damme did a Die Hard rip-off, and it’s one of the more fun ones. I have problems galore with this movie. It’s too long, the bad guy’s scheme is over the top and convoluted, and JCVD, whose character is a fireman, has to step in at one point to play goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They do have a throwaway line earlier in the movie about him playing hockey of some sort, but it’s ridiculous. However, this movie is a ton of fun. The film’s director, Peter Hyams, gets a lot of mileage out of the fight scenes, and the movie does a great job at using its location of a hockey arena to its advantage. A lot of the film was actually shot at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena and they even used the Penguin’s announcer, Mike Lange, which makes the movie feel more authentic despite how insane it all is. Powers Boothe is wonderful as the villain; he chews up the scenery with the best of them. He’s also ridiculously cruel in the film, especially to the girl playing Van Damme’s daughter, which gives the film a darker edge than you might think it would have.
HONORABLE MENTIONS – LIONHEART (1990), BLOODSPORT (1988)
UNDERRATED AVENUE (These deserve a little more love)
1. Death Warrant (1990)
- Leading up to 1990, Van Damme had a string of movies where he was in some sort of tournament (No Retreat, No Surrender, Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Lionheart, which came out the same year as this one). I guess he decided he wanted to try to do something a little more than kick, so we get Death Warrant, which is more of a straight mystery-thriller with Van Damme playing a cop having to go undercover in a prison to solve a string of murders and unmask the killer. There is zero originality to this film, but it kind of works on a very basic level mind you It still works a lot better than the 35% audience rating it currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes, and that’s kind of the definition of an underrated film. This is one of JCVD’s better performances early on in his career, and the mystery aspect actually kind of works. I don’t think you’ll be shocked by the reveal, but this movie gets from A to B to C in fine fashion from a very early script by David Goyer. The director, Deran Sarafian, is one of those guys that has a list of films that aren’t that great but are way better than they have any right to be. I also got a chance to meet a film critic from the L.A. Times in the late nineties who told me that this film had some of the best lighting he had ever seen in a film, so... if you’re a fan of lighting, check out Death Warrant ASAP!
2. Replicant (2001)
- One thing I love about Van Damme, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for this, is that he got some of the most interesting Eastern Action Filmmakers to come over to the States and try their hand at Hollywood. We already talked about John Woo, but Ringo Lam was one of the most interesting team-ups he had. Lam actually directed him in multiple films. However, Replicant might be the only one you could remotely call good. This movie has an insanely bonkers plot where Van Damme plays a serial killer who gets cloned (or a replicant is made of him) because the cops think somehow this will help them catch the real killer or possibly they will just create a second one that’s just as evil. Van Damme also quite enjoyed playing dual roles in his films – this would be the fifth time he had done it, and one of those was his earlier team-up with Lam, 1996’s Maximum Risk. This is really fun sci-fi action that puts an earlier Van Damme movie that many people seem to love, and I for the most part don’t, Timecop, to shame. This was the beginning of a string of DTV films Van Damme would do, many of which are not nearly as bad as you would think, but many are. However, this is easily the best of those and one of the better of his career. Could’ve easily put this in one of the Penthouse slots, but since it’s so underseen, I really felt like it fit here better.
HONORABLE MENTIONS – UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012), NOWHERE TO RUN (1993)
MOM’S BASEMENT (These are just sad)
1. STREET FIGHTER (1994)
- As far as video-game-to-film adaptations go, one would think Street Fighter would have been an easy one to get right. It’s essentially Mortal Kombat but I guess a tad more realistic. I don’t know, but it’s a bunch of people with cool names fighting each other – you’ve got a budget and you’ve got people who kick really good plus the talents of Raul Julia in sadly his last role before his death, and yeah, I guess this was f*cked from the start. But if you’ve not yet seen it – as bad as you think it is, it’s worse. There is not a single thing in this movie that works, and it’s one of those films where the off-screen issues are so much more interesting than the actual film. This was the directorial debut of action movie scribe Steven E. De Souza, a famous writer who never once during production had a completed script. Also, he got a lead actor whose ego was at its height and tried to take over the movie, not to mention get himself quite the nasty divorce after some rumors of a rendezvous with the very lovely Kylie Minogue, who’s also in the film, surfaced.
2. DOUBLE TEAM (1997)
- Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the pitch meeting where someone suggested Van Damme and Dennis Rodman be in a movie together and someone else decided it was a good enough idea to work. This movie is insulting to every sense; it’s flat-out terrible. However, it’s hard to imagine a world where this insanity doesn’t exist. And as bad as Rodman is, I’m pretty sure Van Damme has never been worse either. Part of that could be having to play off Rodman, but there’s really no excuse for any of this except possibly lots and lots of drugs. The final bad guy fight has to be seen to be believed. It’s a Van Damme vs. Mickey Rourke in a coliseum with a bunch of land mines, coke machines, and a tiger because why the f*ck not? This movie really does have to be seen to be believed, but at the same time shouldn’t be seen. So... your call.
DISHONORABLE MENTIONS – THE QUEST (1996), ENEMIES CLOSER (2013)
What are some of your favorite and not so favorite Van Damme movies? Let me know!
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