Julien Leclercq/ France Belgium/ 2018/ 94 mins
On VOD from Mon 8 Apr 2019
The thought of a low-budget thriller featuring the ageing ‘Muscles from Brussels’ may be more likely to raise eyebrows than anticipation, but this whippet-lean neo-noir may yet perform some emergency surgery on the credibility and career of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Lukas (JCVD) is a single father in his fifties doing his best to raise his eight year-old daughter. It’s clear he has A PAST, but beyond his work in a nightclub, and the revelation of a tragic event in his former life he’s the very model of taciturnity. One evening he goes too far with a mouthy reveler and is pulled into a chain of events that puts his life and that of his daughter in danger.
The Bouncer is a long way from the ludicrous roundhouse-kicking hey-day of its star. Despite its pulpy title which suggests a guilty pleasure exploitation flick in the Road House mould, this is a moody and gritty character piece punctuated by short bursts of violence. Stylistically it takes its cues from Scandi-Noir, the martial arts cinema verite stomping its way out of Indonesia and the Taken school of geri-actioners.
Van Damme is all scowls and mono-syllables, like an early-model Terminator hauled out of retirement. It’s a role that suits him down to the ground, as does the grimy pragmatism of the violence. Lukas is very much the reluctant anti-hero, doing no more than necessary. He’s a man that takes no joy in what he has to do; there’s something almost tragic in those dead eyes as turns a gun on someone simply because there’s no other way.
From a technological standpoint Julien Leclercq impresses, particularly in a one-take tracking shot which sees Lukas infiltrate a house, apprehend his target, and fight his way out. It doesn’t have the level of invention that Lynne Ramsay brought to a similar scenario in You Were Never Really Here. but there’s a lean and mean sensibility at work that maximises the spartan script.
For all its plus points, The Bouncer is an undoubtedly generic and utterly humourless affair. It would be easy to take Van Damme’s grim-faced stoicism as nothing more than a blank on which to sketch the most obvious and hackneyed motivations. Despite this, it is very much a pleasant surprise. It may be the case that a lack of fanfare and zero expectations work in its favour, but it’s a rusty box cutter of a movie: short, sharp, vicious, and encrusted with something nasty.