Jean-Claude Van Damme is having a moment. I hesitate to say that he’s having a comeback, because the truth of the matter is that Van Damme has never actually gone away. The man has starred in a film almost every year since 1986 as some form of the tough-talking agile street fighter that he essentially embodies in his present form. But even though Van Damme appeared in six — count ’em — films last year, can you really say that you saw any of them?
After his recent and much-beloved Volvo stunt caused a mild national frenzy that both managed to put his name back in the spotlight and make the car company cool again (kind of) by association, it feels like we can’t escape the onslaught on new JCVD projects headed our way. Is it because we’re looking now that our JCVD-vision has been adjusted, and he’s always been there waiting in the shadows to kick our collective asses with the power of entertainment? Or was the Volvo commercial a nice little publicity stunt to direct our attention to his new movies? Either way, it’s working.
Up first we have the comedy Welcome to the Jungle, which suspiciously features absolutely no Guns N’ Roses throughout the entire trailer. A group of office workers (clearly from Allstate?) are forced by their boss to go on a leadership retreat to a remote island led by a former marine (Van Damme). Though it’s all hokey team-building survivalist games in the beginning, it turns into an adult “Lord of the Flies” when their pilot winds up dead. Van Damme manages to play against type and do what he’s known for best as the unhinged, karate-chopping marine; it’s almost a parody of himself, and that could prove to be a smart move if the rest of the movie is funny enough to match it.
Enemies Closer is not a comedy, but nobody has bothered to tell our boy JC, because his enthusiasm level (and hair volume) has been cranked up to maximum while back in his familiar villain role. In case you missed that tagline in the trailer below, he just doesn’t give a Van Damme. Look at that maniacal grin. A former Navy SEAL is visited by a former colleague with a vendetta who has made the unfortunate decision to threaten the guy who’s already dealing with a drug cartel. Now they have to work together or risk dying at the hands of Van Damme, which seems an especially cruel and unusual fate.
In comparison to Welcome to the Jungle, this looks like the lesser of two films, but Van Damme looks like he’s having a blast. Whether or not it will become a standout among his miles-deep list of films still remains to be seen. Maybe we’ve all just been blinded by really, really cool splits.
Welcome to the Jungle is in theaters February 7, 2014. Enemies Closer is in theaters January 24, 2014.