While the glory days of Jean-Claude Van Damme are long behind him, his work nowadays is more interesting than ever. While he also stars in plenty of DTV action movies like contemporaries Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren, he also takes on a lot of interesting other projects. Commercials, A TV-show in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself, voice work for big studio animated movies, music video appearances. But he also makes some interesting movies ever now and then, The Bouncer being one of them.
The plot of The Bouncer sounds like your average DTV vehicle: A nightclub bouncer in his fifties and with an obscure past accidentally kills the son of high level politician on the job. The authorities provide him with a solution to his problems: help them bring down a criminal organization by infiltrating as a bouncer and they will make his legal problems go away. Reluctantly he accepts the deal.
But unlike the stuff he shoots in Eastern-Europe, The Bouncer is actually a low key gritty action movie shot in Belgium in which Van Damme gets to flex his acting muscles more than his actual muscles. This movie has the same feel to it like other Belgian productions like Rundskop and even Jean-Claude’s own critically acclaimed movie JCVD. And like that movie this is a movie in which French is the main language. The Bouncer is actually the English dubbed version of Lukas, the title under which this movie was originally released. I hate dubbed movies, but with Lukas nowhere to be found I swallowed my hate and watched it anyway.
Luckily this is a movie that doesn’t contain a whole lot of dialogue. Van Damme dubbed himself and in the scenes in which he’s talking because his mouth movements seem to match the dialogue. Whenever he’s in a scene with somebody else it’s obvious that person is dubbed where he’s not. My guess is that they shot his scenes twice. Once with the original French dialogue and another take in English for the international version. It’s a bit strange, but also pushes the amount of clearly dubbed scenes to a minimum.
It’s obvious by what’s onscreen that the people behind the movie actually care for it. Director Julien Leclercq shares a writing credit with Jérémie Guez so my guess is that working with Jean-Claude van Damme is a passionate thing to them. He is after all a national hero who even has a statue in Brussels.
While the movie is a low-key affair, it contains a couple of thrilling action scenes. There is a brutal and realistic brawl between a couple of bouncers in once scene and a nice long take in which Van Damme has to sneak into a mansion and kidnap someone; exciting stuff.
As Lukas this is a very nuanced performance by Van Damme, whose face displays a past full of hardships. The body keeps the score as they say in psychology. It’s a quiet role in which there are only glimpses of the action star we all know and love when the script requires it. Splits or jump kicks are nowhere to be found in this movie.
The story is relatively simple and something we’ve seen before, but the ending did surprise me. It does fit the tone of the movie and is one of the reasons this movie will stand out between all those Universal Soldier sequels.