It’s been 11 years since JCVD and yet people are still surprised that The Muscles from Brussels is more than just a (still impressive considering he is 58 years Old) set of Abdominals. In that modern classic, Jean Claude Van Damme played himself stuck in a situation in which everyone wanted him to be the characters he played in the 90s but he wasn’t Van Damme from the films, he was just a man, like everyone else, a civilian who when confronted with armed gunmen flinches because he is, disarmingly, mortal. While he has been good since, with the likes of Amazon Prime Original Jean Claude Van Johnson allowing him to show off his wealth of melancholic pathos and a surprisingly deft hand at deadpan punchlines, people still seem to refuse to take him seriously as more than just an action star. Maybe that’s finally about to change.
Bouncer stars Van Damme as Lukas, a man working as a bouncer, just trying to look after his eight-year-old daughter in the wake of the death of his wife. After a drunken punter at a club he works at sustains a serious injury as a result of his actions, he is arrested and forced to go undercover in a criminal network in order to maintain custody. In terms of sheer miserabilia, TimeCop this ain’t. What works extremely well for the film is its star.
Van Damme fills the screen with a certain crumpled charisma, looking every inch a man of his age with a certain faded look in his eyes, he is still a man on a mission, it’s just now the mission is only to provide for his daughter. The whole film is built around his performance with everything from the cinematography to the soundtracking lent a muted atmosphere that shows a remarkable consistency from director Julien Leclercq, especially considering as far as I can tell, this is his English-language debut. The rest of the cast, while without a standout performer, all put in appropriately moody work, maintaining a level of professionalism that is impressive.
But as convincing as the tone and overall performances are, sadly, when the movie kicks into traditional thriller mode, it is somewhat lacking in genuine tension. Van Damme brings his standard flair to some more ground action scenes but the film can’t live up to him, making for a third act that is well-shot and staged but somehow dramatically anaemic. Also at times, the dialogue has a placeholder feeling to it like it was in need of a good punch-up to really push it into the upper echelons of its genre and make something truly memorable.
Despite this, it is an easily watchable film and at under 90 minutes, a brief enough one to not outstay its welcome. That said, action fans be warned, this is a far cry from the likes of Hard Target and for those looking for the next Infernal Affairs, well, this is not quite The Departed but it’ll do. Is this going to be enough to convince the naysayers that Van Damme is the real deal? Well who knows, it might be too late for them to get on board with the Van Damme-assaince. For the rest of us, there’s a lot here to enjoy. Now back to my campaign for Jean Claude Van Johnson season two…
Dir: Julien Leclercq
Scr: Jérémie Guez
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sveva Alviti, Sami Bouajila, Kaaris, Kevin Janssens, Sam Louwyck, Alice Verset
Prd: Julien Madon, Aimée Buidine, Julien Leclercq, Jérémie Guez
DOP: Robrecht Heyvaert
Music: Jean-Jacque Hertz, Francois Roy
Run time: 83 mins
The Bouncer is available on DVD & Digital Download now.