A Risky Jean-Claude Van Damme Movie Is Only On Netflix For A Little While Longer

By Nathan Kamal | 2 months ago

Jean-Claude Van Damme

When the inevitable, Walk The Line-style biopic of Jean-Claude Van Damme is someday made, it will be difficult for it not to seem like a series of cliches. More than most, the legendary action star and martial arts championship has led a life that reads like a checklist of Hollywood tropes. A hardscrabble struggle to make it in Hollywood? Check. The introduction of an older veteran actor who takes him under his wing? Yep? A sudden explosive rise to fame, followed by drug addiction, erratic behavior, and an ego-fuelled fall from grace eventually redeemed by a sense of self-awareness and gratefulness for surviving his own weird adventure? That’s JCVD alright. One of his less well-known, but still excellent movies from the height of his 1990s fame is currently on Netflix, but it is going away soon. So if you want to watch Jean-Claude Van Damme in Hong Kong master director Ringo Lam’s Maximum Risk, better do so before April 1. 

Jean-Claude Van Damme

After an early career dominating the full-contact karate championships of Europe, Jean-Claude Van Damme moved to America with the idea of becoming an actor. He struggled to find roles (which was probably not helped by his thick Belgian accent), only managing to pick up work as an extra in cheap 1980s films like the cheesy dance movie Breakin. Eventually, he found a show business mentor in Chuck Norris, who hired him as a sparring partner and as a bouncer in a bar he owned. He started to get small roles as a generically European villain (ah, the 1980s, when a Belgian could play a villainous Russian, and a brilliant Swedish scientist could also play a villainous Russian), and was almost the titular Predator in the Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction classic before they decided they needed someone even bigger than Arnold. Then Bloodsport hit, Van Damme became a star and his wild 1990s ride began. 

Jean-Claude Van Damme

Maximum Risk was released in theaters in 1996. At that point, Jean-Claude Van Damme was at the very height of his box-office draw. Following Bloodsport, he had starred in Kickboxer (which kicked off a franchise that he would return to years later), then in a series of increasingly successful, increasingly high-budget movies like Double Impact, Universal Soldier, and Hard Target. 1994’s Timecop would break $100 million at the box office, and become his biggest financial success to date. However, Van Damme was also at the height of a cocaine addiction that would seriously hamper his career. His behavior became erratic; there is really no other way to describe challenging Steven Seagal to a fight in Sylvester Stallone’s backyard, even if the fact that it was Seagal makes it understandable. According to Van Damme, when he passed up a $12 million payday by demanding $20 million (because it’s what Jim Carrey had recently received), he was blacklisted from Hollywood. 

But before he was, Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in the first American film by director Ringo Lam. Lam was a well-regarded action director in Hong Kong, and Van Damme had become the point man for introducing Hong Kong directors to Hollywood. Within the span of a few years, he would star in the American debuts by Lam, Tsui Hark, and the legendary John Woo. Some of these movies were successful (and one has Wilford Brimley riding a horse with a bow and arrow, which is an unqualified success), and some less so. Maximum Risk is Van Damme at the height of his career as an action star, which must have been the impetus for making him star as two different Van Dammes. 

That’s right, Maximum Risk has Jean-Claude Van Damme playing both French cop Alain Moreau and his hitherto unknown twin brother, Mikhail, a member of the Russian Mob. Coincidentally, this is just one of three separate movies in which Van Damme plays a dual role (the others being Replicant and Double Impact, in what we assume some call the JCVD2 Trilogy). There’s a loose plot involving corrupt officials and people needing to testify, but the movie is really a reason to get Van Damme into action scenes, which is all that we really need. There is notably a semi-nude fight season in a Russian steamboat that predates Viggo Mortenson in Eastern Promises, which is fun to see. 

It was around the time of Maximum Risk that Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career began to plummet. The movie did well at the box office, but had terrible reviews. Movies like Double Team bombed, and others like Legionnaire were released direct to video, which would have been unthinkable for a star the magnitude of JCVD even a few years before. Many years of cheap martial arts movies and Hollywood wilderness would follow, during which Van Damme got sober and became an elder statesman of action film. He reportedly is looking to retire from the genre (and perhaps from film entirely), but seems finally at peace with his life, career, and image as a star. Good for you, JCVD.