The Muscles from Brussels may be approaching the sunset of his career, but it is quite evident he plans on going out kicking. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s latest film, one where he tries to employ a large amount of levity to go along with his high-kicking shenanigans, looks to be a hit as it sits at the top position across the globe on the super streamer Netflix.
The Last Mercenary finds the 60-year-old Van Damme playing things more for smiles than anything else. Yes, he does have his fist-fighting, feet-kicking moments, but the film seems to want to showcase Van Damme’s “acting skills”, which most agree have been mediocre at best. The film also appears to want to show off a skill never associated with Van Damme – comedy.
The story follows “The Mist”, a name given to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s legendary secret-service agent, Richard Brumère, because he was so hard to trace, as he comes out from the cold after 25-years for one specific reason – a son he’s never met.
None of the actors’ names, other than Van Damme, will ring a bell for American audiences as this is a French-made film. Semir Decazza stars as Archie, Richard’s estranged son, who finds himself in a whole bunch of trouble when he is falsely accused of drug and arms trafficking by the government.
The Mist is back and with him comes a cavalcade of Peter Sellers’ The Pink Panther-like disguises, naturally played for fun. We see Jean-Claude Van Damme in various get-ups like wearing his big, fuzzy beard; a blonde wig; a mustache and Yankees ball cap; Van Damme in a Bond tux; and we also get to see JCVD in drag.
While the humor, such as it is, may fall flat in many places (one of The Mist’s crew riding a scooter wearing only a helmet and underwear, the psycho who has a Tony “Scarface” Montana obsession), when JCVD actually does what he does best – fight – the movie has flashes of why fans fell in love with JCVD in the first place. It definitely wasn’t for his acting ability.
Apparently, though, the movie has enough old Jean-Claude Van Damme-ness to appeal. Enough fans around the globe have flocked to it, with JCVD’s popularity taking the film to number one on Netflix. Critically speaking, though, the film falls, unsurprisingly, flat. Owen Gleiberman from Variety says of the film, “The tone of the line readings is so in-your-face that it leaves you seriously wondering where comedy leaves off and ineptitude begins.”
It should come as no shock that JCVD has nearly 40-years of Hollywood experience under his belt. His very first film came back in 1985 with the film No Retreat, No Surrender. It took the Belgium actor three more years, but he finally found his footing in a big way with the classic film, based on the true story of martial artist Frank Dux, in Bloodsport.
Before Bloodsport made JCVD a star, he was working on the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator. JCVD was set to appear in costume as the Predator and even ran through many test phases in costume. Director John McTiernan wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme for his martial arts and athletic ability as they wanted the Predator to be agile and ninja-like.
But as legend would tell, Van Damme didn’t care much for the costume. He apparently passed out from the heat while in costume and also expressed major concern that his face would never be seen in the movie. McTiernan eventually replaced the oft complaining Van Damme with Kevin Peter Hall in a move that, in hindsight, worked out much better for all involved.
Passing on Predator didn’t truly affect Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career. His martial arts skills made him a top draw at the box office, although his heavy French accent sometimes made him difficult to embrace as an actor in Hollywood.
His popularity took him to stardom in movies such as Cyborg, Kickboxer, Lionheart, and Double Impact. It also took him to one of his most popular characters, Luc Deveraux, in Universal Soldier. That film would kick off a franchise that would include six films in total.
After the original Universal Soldier, two films (Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business) would follow but Jean-Claude Van Damme would not be on board to reprise his role as Deveraux. Actor Matt Battaglia would take over for Van Damme until the fourth film in the series, Universal Soldier: The Return. JCVD would be back for that as well as the final two films, Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.
JCVD’s career would continue on with him finding another popular film, Timecop. As time went on, though, JCVD’s popularity began to wane. Tossed into action film star obscurity, he continued to make films, just films that were nowhere as popular as his earlier material.
In 2008, Jean-Claude Van Damme made a film that was a fun look at himself and his career, all while dealing with a bank robbery and hostages. The film was called JCVD and it resurrected a stagnant career, one that while had its professional challenges, also had its personal challenges as well. One big challenge involved Steven Seagal and Sylvester Stallone.
As Sly would tell the tale, both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal were at a party at Stallone’s Miami mansion in 1997. Van Damme, tired of hearing Seagal boast that he could kick Van Damme’s ass, approached the mercurial Seagal with an offer for them to settle things in Stallone’s backyard. “Seagal made his excuses and left,” Stallone explains via Contact Music. “But Van Damme, who was berserk, tracked him down at a nightclub and offered him out again.” The fight, though, never happened. Both actors walked away, although Stallone offered his take on what could have happened. “Van Damme was too strong. Seagal wanted none of it.”
Jean-Claude Van Damme continues to put the time in at the gym to keep ready for any role that may offer itself to the aging martial artist. The Last Mercenary shows that JCVD still has a bit of kick left in him, but only time will tell if he gets another opportunity to showcase his skills.
The Last Mercenary can be seen on Netflix. You can see the trailer below.