After eight straight hours of countless kicks, punches and raw pig heart eating VAN DAMMAGE at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet is a wrap as they’d say, and it was an absolute blast (no pun intended.) The whole affair went off without any testosterone-fueled rage incidents occurring and kicked off with a short filmed introduction from the man it was celebrating, Jean-Claude Van Damme (henceforth referred to as JCVD.) For those in attendance it was a chance to see three of JCVD’s films on the big screen, three of which I’d venture most have never seen on the big screen and was capped off with an early screening of The Expendables 2.
VAN DAMMAGE kicked off with Bloodsport, arguably the film that introduced JCVD to the world. It’s hard to believe there was a time when this type of film dominated the box office. According to Wikipedia the film grossed 11.8 Million dollars when it was released back in 1988. The film was introduced by Alamo Drafthouse Director of Interactive Programming Greg MacLennan and was preceded by a filmed three question bit with possibly the “only man to have shot JCVD twice and lived to tell about it” Director of the JCVD starring kick-boxer and the DP of Bloodsport David Worth. Worth shared some interesting bits about how he shot Bloodsport, regarding some light technical details on angels and film stock. It was fun to get some insight on a film I can recall having watched on VHS and premium cable countless times in my youth. The film’s R rating by modern standards seems rather tame, hell I’d go so far as to say it’d earn a PG-13 by today’s standards. I kept finding myself smiling widely as nostalgia washed over me. Bloodsport is a film that isn’t great, far from it, though it’s packed with moments that are etched in my mind like a fossil being pressed into rock after thousands of years. Other parts of it are by modern standards laughably bad, which thankfully the audience seemed on board with laughing at every unnecessary use of slow mo, or cheesy bit of dialog the film contained. The film is mercifully short at just 92 minutes and has a pace that is nearly pitch perfect keeping it from ever feeling like it’s over-stayed its welcome.
Did you know that JCVD’s character, Frank Dux really exist? Further that Bloodsport is based on actual events? Yep! it’s true, something I totally didn’t recall from my youth. It also contains one of the most positive, lighthearted unintentionally, though some what intentionally funny and backed by a good 80’s New Wave song “chase”? Fun stuff.
During the break between Bloodsport and Hard Target the Alamo hosted a raw big heart eating contest. I was sadly on a bio break when this happened and missed it but it sounded slightly revolting but also fantastic. I think I even heard one contestant ate nearly, if not all of the entire heart. Congrats to that bad ass…I’m not sure I could not stomach that.
Next up was 1993’s John Woo directed Hard Target. By the time this came out in 1993 I was nearly a teen and had become a bit more discriminate about what I watched. There was also that whole thing that I couldn’t see R rated films which put this out of my reach. That said I still found myself laughing, often out loud at just how ridiculous some of the scenes in Hard Target really are. I also found myself thoroughly enjoying its overall flow. I’ve read where some others, that take these films very seriously got upset during Van Dammage that some were laughing at serious scenes, but come on, if you can’t laugh at JCVD standing up on a Motorcycle and firing a gun at an oncoming SUV, I’m not sure we can be friends…how can that be taken seriously? It’s ridiculously over the top, hysterical and fun, that is what it’s all about isn’t it? Fun?
Hard Target is lots of fun being this far removed from it. Further it’s got a fun cameo for film geeks in it, Ted Raimi. His brother Sam picked up an executive producer credit on this film. Wilford Brimley plays a Cajun speaking uncle type who you basically don’t understand a word of dialog from, of and it’s based in Louisiana if that last character bit didn’t give that away. A location that for some reason keeps getting played up for no real obvious reason. To be sure one is given at a point, though it’s more or less a throw away reason. I just loved how the film kept using stereotypical NOLA and Louisiana tropes to remind the audience where they were.
Third was 1992’s Universal Solider. I for some reason have strong memories of this film on VHS. I think there was one viewing of it when I was younger and I haven’t seen it since. One thing I can say for Universal Solider is that it’s much more serious than the previous two films. It’s almost completely devoid of anything that measured on my fun meter. I found this interesting since this film was completed before Hard Target and yet Hard Target seems to have way more fun, be it intentional or not. Further Universal Solider comes in at nearly an hour and forty minutes and begins to feel every minute of it toward its end. Universal Solider was also likely the most violent film in the lineup yet. Sure, it seemed that every round fired from a gun in Hard Target was an explosive round, that is what lead to it being more fun, with Universal Solider there are more serious things at play and the gore for the first time in the Van Dammage evening was fully on display.
Before the Grand finale of the evening the audience was treated to three questions with JCVD that were filmed during the junket for The Expendables 2. Not too much to mention here though he did do an on camera kick and discuss Sylvester Stallone’s acting method a bit.
The Expendables brought together all of the eighties and nineties action all-stars of Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Micky Rourke and Bruce Willis. Also included were the more contemporary Jet Li, Jason Statham, and relative newcomers Terry Crews and retired MMA hall of fame member Randy Couture. All but Rourke return for the sequel and some new actors are in the mix as well. The biggest of course and the reason for the evening being JCVD. Surprisingly, after an evening of seeing JCVD celebrated it was interesting to see him play somewhat against type as a ruthless bastard of a villain in The Expendables 2.
As for The Expendables 2 I went more of a Universal Solider route than I did Bloodsport and Hard Target. I don’t think I was wearing down as by the time the film wrapped up in its 102 minute run time around 1AM I was pretty energetic. There were bits of The Expendables 2 I thoroughly enjoyed. There is a self-deprecating humor to the film with the actors poking fun of one another permeating through out. Still, The Expendables 2 feels like more of the same rather than anything fresh or new. Good news for fans of this sort of thing, though if you’ve grown tired of this type of thing, well then likely best to steer clear.
That said, Arnold Schwarzenegger steals every scene he pops up in, which sadly is still pretty limited. Also bad news for Jet Li fans. Li has a pretty epic fight sequence early on, but then disappears for the entirety of the remaining film. If anything I’d say the bright spot of The Expendables 2 is that of Dolph Lundgren. I love the way the man plays his character and they way the script has woven in true facts, that if you didn’t know them you might laugh, really hard, about the moments in the film where they spring up.
In closing, Van Dammage was a complete blast. I walked in with some reservations. I let go of the big, boisterous action films the event was celebrating long ago. To revisit them in this format is almost the perfect way to do it. It harkens back to the times when the family would rent a stack of VHS tapes on Friday night and cram the films in over the weekend. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to answer the door for the pizza guy and return some videotapes.
by John Coovert