Last night, I had a realization that was as surprising as it was reaffirming: Jean-Claude Van Damme was a presence throughout my childhood. From his uncredited appearance in Breakin’ to his barely-speaking role in No Retreat, No Surrender and into his run of hits that include Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Timecop, JCVD rivaled Stallone and Schwarzenegger with a skill set that neither man could match, and for it he was rewarded handsomely.
Alas, at some point along the way (I’m imagining somewhere around Street Fighter, which not even gratuitous nudity could have saved), it became uncool to be a fan of JCVD. I’m ashamed to have let the shift in perception of an undeniably top-5 action star of the past 30 years affect my ability to praise Van Damme’s body of work with impunity.
Now, as ironic appreciation has become a mutant version of sincerity, it has become acceptable to appreciate Van Damme without laughing at him (see the GoDaddy.com ads). And my failed loyalty precludes me from the triumph one feels when their long-standing pleasures pass the contemporary Cool Test long after personal appreciation had been openly established.
I should know better than to be swayed by what other people think is cool, of course. And perhaps I should take a lesson from Van Damme himself, who’s having fun with the projects that come his way without really caring (score for pun evasion) what people have to say about him.
Van Damme’s resurgence continues with his new film, Enemies Closer, which opens today. Following up his villain role in The Expendables 2, Van Damme plays a heroin trafficker with a penchant for violence and a need to terrorize 2 former US servicemen played by Orlando Jones and Tom Everett Scott. The trailer suggests that Van Damme has given the character a maniacal sense of humor that fits well for an action star who has been through public highs and lows and withstood the pressure that comes with both.
And although Van Damme has already upstaged the protagonists (the poster says it all), director Peter Hyams should not consider that occurrence a drawback to the story he is telling. And if Jones and Scott are concerned about getting outshined, they should come back when they can do a full split between 2 moving Volvo trucks.