Streaming Releases: The Bouncer (2019) - Reviewed

Jean-Claude Van Damme. At the height of his fame in the early ‘90s he was box office machine, executing perfect aerial roundhouse kicks and pulling off full splits that made men cringe in the audience. Near the end of the decade he was already on the decline, troubled by financial problems and personal demons. Like so many action stars of the '80s and '90s, if your last name wasn’t Schwarzenegger or Stallone, it was hard to compete when younger talent came knocking. Time finds a way to mortalize us all, especially action stars. 

Many have faded over the years and became lax on the physique that made them famous. It’s a natural transformation we all face as we get older, but one that is often looked down upon in a negative light with actors. Tabloid magazines have a field day when Hollywood’s elite begin to show signs of aging, pairing unflattering pictures with bold lettered phrases such as “Letting Them Self Go!” It’s no wonder why so many seek out plastic surgery. But deep down, everyone wants a comeback or another hurrah. Jean-Claude Van Damme has answered the call. He grabbed the torch, re-lit the flame, and has taken march.

In the last five years the man has been busy. One could say the foundation for his comeback was laid back in 2008 with the film JCVD. In the film Van Damme played himself, a role that revealed all of his personal flaws that have plagued his life. It was an impressive film, and over seas he even earned a few best actor nominations for the performance. Fast forward a decade later and we find a man who has completely reinvented himself as an actor, all while staying true to the elements that made him famous.

First off, The Bouncer is a French film (yes there are subtitles). This may be a turn off if you are a fan of Van Damme's American action films. While inflicting maximum Van Dammage across American cinemas is where he found his fame, the man was born in Belgium (a French/ Dutch speaking country), hence the nickname The Muscles from Brussels. In The Bouncer Van Damme plays a bouncer named Lukas who is forced into an organized crime syndicate after they threaten to harm his daughter if he does not comply. While this is an action movie, long gone are the fancy kicks and stunts. This Van Damme is aged, gritty, and chiseled by time. While the flashy moves are gone, the man’s acting ability have improved ten fold from the days of Kickboxer and Bloodsport. That being said, he can still can throw a mean punch and battle in a rough gritty bar fight manner. 

The old spark is there, and in many ways the action is more realistic than ever. The Bouncer isn’t a punch 'em up, get 'em out film. It’s actually really well written. The film has emotional substance, and the art direction surpasses most films in Van Damme’s catalogue. There are several long panning shots that go on for minutes with out breaks, in and out of buildings, and in one case, through a revolving glass door. These scenes are executed well and give an additional depth to the film. The sound and music execution also deserve recognition. At times the sound is used to drown out all other elements in the film, adding an intensity to several scenes. To wrap everything up, The Bouncer is more than an action film, it is a smart well edited one that doesn’t try to do too much. It stays grounded and true to the story it is trying to tell. Fans of Van Damme should really enjoy and appreciate this film. 

At 58 years old, he has really proven himself. More than anything, it’s great to see him in action again, and in an age appropriate role that has substance. While he got his start as an action star, Van Damme has proven he is an actor, and deserving of the title. In terms of writing, direction, and acting, this well rounded movie is one of Van Damme's most impressive to date. 

-Lee L. Lind