What would Jean Claude Van Damme do if he really did find himself in a situation that calls for an action hero? This film envisions JCVD as an aging action star, in the midst of a heated custody battle and losing all the good action roles to Steven Seagal. He finds himself stuck in the middle of a hostage crisis, and, unlike in the movies, he knows in this case his fists and feet won't save anybody. In the thrilling opening sequence, a single take from a film within the film, after dispatching an entire military unit almost entirely unarmed, he asks the director why he always has to throw away his guns, and the response is that his character eschews guns for the sake of purity. In real life, though, he knows he's helpless with a gun to his head.
Ironically, what the situation calls for is brain rather than the brawn he portrays in his classic martial arts pictures. It's a surprisingly honest set up and performance, that acknowledges all of the cliches and jokes one might raise about the man and his movies, at the same time as it highlights the fact that he really is just a guy who dreamed big and worked hard and did something. In a pivotal monologue, Van Damme wonders what it was he really accomplished and it feels utterly authentic. A hometown hero in Brussels for "making it" in Hollywood, sure, but he knows his films are also something of a joke, and at least as depicted here his life is a mess. For all the punishment he takes to make the fight scenes authentic, there's something that always feels fake about his action films; here, even though there's less actual fighting, he takes an emotional beating and it really feels genuine, even if most of it is in fact scripted. There's still a quasi-documentary feel to it all. Obviously recommended for fans of JCVD. I never was (though I still recall the visceral thrill of watching Kickboxer -- I could laugh, but it was impressive and thrilling too). Who wouldn't dig this? It's a rare action film with good acting, and a very clever screenplay.