At MUBI.com, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky has written a sincere appreciation of faded action star and frequent punchline Jean-Claude Van Damme in honor of the Muscles From Brussels’ 50th birthday. I don’t know that I’ve ever read anyone write or speak this affectionately about Van Damme, and I love it. As far as Vishnevetsky is concerned, the troubles that have befallen Van Damme’s personal life and career have only increased his potency as an action hero:
“For an action star, Van Damme has an unbearably sad face–and like Buster Keaton’s blank mug, it’s only gets sadder as he ages–but then again Van Damme has always been an anomaly: he’s no good at delivering one-liners, he isn’t terrifying and he looks ridiculous holding a gun. Unlike, say, Schwarzenegger, he looks exactly like a guy you fuck with: small, pretty, vulnerable, resigned to a life of getting punched in the face. The sadsack ass-kicker, with great big insomniac bags under his eyes.”
Vishnevetsky pays homage to the importance of Van Damme’s physical and dramatic shortcomings without mentioning the fascinating (if flawed) film in which Van Damme himself acknowledges them: 2008’s “JCVD,” where the actor, playing himself, bares his soul in a series of shockingly powerful monologues like this one:
It hasn’t been the best birthday week for Van Damme. Twitch reported that the star had suffered a heart attack on the set of his latest (direct-to-DVD) movie, “Weapon,” forcing JCVD to take to his Facebook page to deny the report in the third person. “Please do not believe all what you read from rumors on any unofficial JVCD [sic] sites,” he wrote, according to Reuters. “Jean-Claude Van Damme is 100 percent healthy, training well for taking the fight and sending his fans and friends much love.”
Whether Van Damme had a heart attack or not, the fact that he felt the need to insist he hadn’t — to reassert his strength and invulnerability in a field that demands it of its stars — only strengthens Vishnevetsky’s argument. Van Damme’s always trying to prove himself to us. Maybe the fact that he sometimes fails — something an action film should never do — is what makes him valuable.