Jean-Claude Van Damme’s always been busy, but he’s spent much of the last few years as a meta goofball, an interesting new wrinkle in a career that’s already had more developments than many people realize. I enjoy those projects (especially the amazing Jean-Claude Van Johnson) and the way JCVD’s played into his own image while using his now-weary and weathered persona for the sake of comedy, but I’ve also longed for another film that could showcase his talent as a dramatic actor. The Bouncer (aka Lukas) scratches that itch.
Though modest and bare, The Bouncer is still more than just an average DTV action film. Director Julien Leclercq makes choices that clearly indicate thoughtfulness and care in everything from cinematography and music to fight choreography. The fact that it’s (mostly) not an English language film also lends it automatic heightened status alongside entries such as JCVD.
Van Damme stars as Lukas, a widowed single father barely making ends meet as a nightclub bouncer. When an altercation goes South, he finds himself at a sketchy new job and at the mercy of an international police organization that wants him to deliver secret information on his new, clearly dangerous, employers.
JCVD is in full on say-as-little-as-possible and never smile mode here. Somehow even with this dearth of expression, he manages to have real charisma with his young daughter, which is crucial because while The Bouncer has great action, it is primarily a drama, and for that to work we need to care about the character and his motivations. These father-daughter scenes are sweet, never cutesy or cloying.
While the film contains perhaps less action than expected, each of its big sequences feel like what would be another film’s central showcase. There’s a cool, claustrophobic car chase in a parking garage, a tense five-minute-long one-shot stealth siege sequence, and some great, blunt gunplay. An early sequence, in which JCVD suddenly finds himself in a violent job interview (“Last man standing gets the job”) is the clear champion, however, and probably JCVD’s best raw action scene since the end of Day of Reckoning. For action fans, it alone is worth the price of admission.
The Bouncer is mostly going to reward only those who still love JCVD and keep watching his movies in hopes that the next will offer him the elevated material he deserves. It is too small to wow anyone who doesn’t already care, but for those who have stuck with the actor this long, it provides a very satisfying entry into his filmography. In other words, if you’re already a fan, this one is a must-see.