Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Van Damme is the Bouncer

Of course, Jean-Claude Van Damme can speak French. He’s the “Muscles from Brussels.” But no Flemish. He’s not the “Walloon Goon.” You would think Francophone action cinema would have made better use of him over the years, but at least he has a chance to play his age and take stock of his career in Julien Leclercq’s The Bouncer (a.k.a. Lukas, trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

Lukas has a mysterious past, so he is forced to work dodgy partially off-the-books bouncer gigs to support Sarah, his adoring little moppet daughter. Money was already tight before he badly injures an aggressively obnoxious and entitled nightclub patron. As a last resort, Lukas accepts a bouncer gig at a strip club owned by Jan Dekkers, a mysterious Flemish underworld figure.  Unfortunately, Lukas is also “recruited” by predatory copper Maxim Zeroual to inform on his new employer.

Recognizing his talent and nee for cash, Dekkers and his righthand man Geerts quickly recruit Lukas to do some of his dirty work. Part of his duties also include driving and babysitting Lisa Zaccherini, an Italian printing expert, who is most experienced doing jobs with a 2.6 x 6.4 trim-size. Both sides of the law will make threats regarding Sarah to force Lukas to do their bidding, but the more desperate his circumstances, the more dangerous the old bouncer gets.

Okay, The Bouncer isn’t exactly the equal of Gran Torino or Harry Brown, but anyone in the future who writes a scholarly survey on the filmography of Van Damme will spend a disproportionate amount of time on this film. Even if it sounds like faint praise, Lukas is probably his best and most honest performance to date.

Of course, Van Damme still throws down, but the fight scenes are grittier and way more street than his typical high-flying melees. There are also real stakes, because Lukas is decidedly not a super-hero. Leclercq (who previously directed The Assault and produced SK1) also helms some tight, tense action scenes, including a particularly impressive long take that follows Lukas as he stalks a rival gangster through a country villa (against his will).

Throughout it all, Van Damme looks convincingly weary and haggard, while forging some pleasing rapport with young Alice Verset. Who knew he had it in him? The villains are disappointingly bland, but Leclercq and Van Damme compensate well enough with their distinctively hard-boiled work. Recommended surprisingly highly, The Bouncer is now available on DVD.