His Name Is Pants And He's A Van Damme-aholic
I have a problem. And for someone who is considered to be a staff
writer for this rag, it only polarizes how awful this problem is.
I am hooked on seeing Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. Let me put the
problem in perspective for you: I saw "Double Team" in the theatre.
Remember that movie? Dennis "Look at Me" Rodman and Mickey "What
the Hell Happened to My Face?!?" Rourke were in it.
I paid $8 to see it.
While my tastes in films run slightly to the left of mainstream,
I have never been so high-and-mighty as to admit that I like bad
movies. Not all movies are intended to stir emotions or raise inner
questions, what else would explain the continued career of Steven
Seagal. [NOTE TO EDITOR: perhaps we should write an open letter
to Mr. Seagal, apparently and inexplicably still riding his own
coattails from the first "Under Siege" and instruct that kung-fu/action
man to mix in a salad ever once in a while in lieu of the little
known East Asian diet consisting of nothing but bacon.] Some movies
are purely meant to entertain and nothing else.
I can't explain why I have to see the movies, but I can say that
I came down with the early symptoms of this affliction in August,
1993. While working on a made-for-TV movie being shot in my hometown
of Richmond, Virginia, I took one of my days off (it was a six-day
work week) and slammed down a triple espresso before watching John
Woo's "Hard Target". I had writen a paper in college and in one
section, I wrote about John Woo's "The Killer" and how its American
release was being rated NC-17 for its violent content. Needless
to say, finding a John Woo movie on video in the vast Syracuse metropolitan
area was next to impossible, and Richmond is, well, Richmond. Let's
just add that Daniel Neiman, the critic for the Richmond Times-Dispatch
thought that "I Love Trouble" was worthy of more stars than "Forrest
Gump" and while I have no deep-seeded love for the Hanks movie,
I can say that it certainly was better than that Roberts/Nolte vehicle
(at least the 10 minutes I sat through before I had to turn to see
what was on the Home & Garden channel instead).
Okay...so what I am saying is Richmond is not a bastion of fine
cinema. Where was I? Oh, yeah, so on my one day off, I pound the
triple expresso and watch some of the more macnificent carnage that
I had seen. But that is sandwiched around Yancy Butler staring with
those alluring-yet-creeping eyes and the thespian skills of Sir
Laurence Van-Damme. The following weekend, I went to see it again
with my friend Lauren who had already been inflicted with the disease
and had been jonsing to see "Hard Target". So, I had seen a Van
Damme movie twice in one week. By this point, family and friends
could only pray for a speedy recovery.
At first, I thought that I didn't need to see another Van Damme
movie. I'm strong. I can resist. But there are forces working against
me. I am not sure if Van Damme's agent just knew who to get laid
or if the Belgian government had a deal signed in blood with Ted
Turner. All I know that "Bloodsport" is second only to the original
"Beastmaster" for the sheer number of showings in the fabulous TBS
I was drawn to the sheer lack of acting ability. I'm not talking
about his inability to convey emotion, that's a given. I'm talking
about how forced and stilted the dialogue is. Sure, English is not
his first language, but apparently he couldn't walk and speak English
at the same time. Hell, he couldn't even blink and speak English
at the same time. I was hooked. It's like watching a car wreck unfold...it's
painful but I am completely unable to look away. Granted, he has
gotten better since the days he portrayed Frank Dux but not by much.
The range of his acting ability now is that he can tilt his head
After I saw a few Van Damme movies, I began to notice an interesting
similarity in his movies. In a majority of his movies, there will
inevitbaly be some sort of on-screen explanation as to why he has
an accent. The stock answers are usually as follows:
 he grew up in Louisianna and it's really more of a Cajun accent
(check out "Hard Target" for Wilford Blimley as Jean-Claude's booze-makin',
bow-shootin', French-speakin' Cajun uncle),
 he has a twin brother and they were raised separately by French-speaking
parents until they died and he was raised by English-speaking guardians
(used twice in Van Damme films),
 he is of French decent but learned English
 he is slightly retarded or deaf or was hit on the head or something
and hence his peculiar accent.
Earlier in his career, JC movies usually had a tag-line incorporating
"DAMME" with fairly laughable results. Still, I felt compelled to
see a movie which slapped the words "TOO DAMN TOUGH!" on the screen.
Although, I'm sure that "VAN DAMME...THANK YOU, MA'AM!" has David
Bowie spinning in his grave. Today, it's difficult to imagine that
epics like "Lionheart" would even make it to the theater, hence
why a couple of JC's latest offerings have gone straight to video.
I must admit that although I have seen my share of Belgium's finest
actor, even I would never stoop so low as to go and rent "Legionnaire".
But lest you think that I am the only person with some genetic
deficiency, there are others that consider themselves among the
"Van Damned". Respected lawyer Stephanie Johnson, Esq., cites "the
butt and our need for flank" as her two primary reasons for rushing
out to "Universal Soldier 2" this past summer. Although, she does
admit that, "One must also enjoy losing oneself in the bad acting,
bad writing, bad casting, bad costuming, good special effects and
great fight choreography. I will continue to ruminate." And don't
be surprised if you are ever in an East Coast movie theater hearing
the chants of "JC! JC! JC!" as Lauren Hass is wanton to do. Lauren,
an executive director of a non-profit organization in Washinton,
D.C., has to see Van Damme films "for health reasons like scurvy
and vitamin C." And she goes as far as citing the Joe Esterhaus
penned "Nowhere to Run", JC's lone entry in the drama genre, as
her favorite simply because he has to rely on his actiing skills
as he shares screentime with thespians Rosanna Arquette and Kirin
I can safely state for the record that I am a refugee of the Van
Damned. I spent too long among those inflicted to accepted back
into normal society, yet I cannot go back because it means that
I will have to pay $9 to "The Return of the Universal Soldier".
In the meantime, Gentle Reader, you can do your part in helping
me and hundreds of others like me. The next time you see someone
in the video store lingering over that "Knock-Off" DVD with Paul
Sorvino/Rob Schnider commentary, smack it our of the hands and set
it on fire. Call it tough love.