By James Rocchi (reprinted from 09/07/2008 -- Toronto Film Festival)
All the world's a stage, Shakespeare tells us, but just imagine what kind of nightmare it would be if that were actually true. Jean-Claude Van Damme, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme in Mabrouk El-Mechri's JCVD, doesn't have to imagine if it were true, because for him it is; worse, he doesn't even get to pick the kind of stage he's on or the part he's playing. ... JCVD fakes you out from the jump and doesn't stop, opening with a one-cut action sequence set to the pulse and pound of Baby Huey's 8-track soul-funk version of Curtis Mayfield's "Hard Times: "So I play the part I feel they want of me/ And I'II pull the shades so I won't see them seein' me ..."
And during the opening, Van Damme, older and slower but still possessed of the skills to pay the bills, kicks and punches and shoots his way through a legion of stuntmen until everything goes wrong. And it's been going wrong for a while, and it's a good thing Van Damme still has the skills to pay the bills because Van Damme has bills to pay: IRS arrears, child support, court costs. On-set, he's getting no support from his director, a truculent young Hong Kong hotshot who doesn't want to hear Van Damme's complaints, insulting him in untranslated rants: "Just because he brought John Woo to America, he thinks he can rub my dick with sandpaper?" Van Damme needs this job; he needs every job. And so, the weary and aching Muscles from Brussels endures, bearing the heavy load of life like a '80s Atlas on unsteady ground in the new millennium.