Friday, November 15, 2013

Comeback 2008: Mickey Rourke VS JCVD

In 2008, two films featuring down on their luck movie stars from the 1980's and 90's hit screens to widespread acclaim.  One film mirrored the hard times of its star while the other was a meta style mockumentary featuring the actor as himself.  While one would hit the television, interview and award circuit to grovel and cry about his past, the other canceled all promotion for the film and squandered the goodwill the film generated.  Now, one of them is again stuck in DTV land while the other just starred in an ad campaign that has gone viral and racked up 10 million views in two days.  The first film was The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke.  The second is JCVD, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

First, a bit of history.  Mickey Rourke was a talented actor from the 1980's who made an impression in movies like Body Heat, Rumble Fish, Diner, Year of the Dragon and 9 1/2 Weeks.  Although aligned with strong directors and idolized by his peers, Rourke never top lined a successful film or was nominated for any award during his heyday.  He would later embark on a bizarre boxing career while acting in forgettable films and living up the bad boy lifestyle of motorcycles, women and booze.  Having burned so many bridges and never being able to carry a movie, Rourke fell into obscurity, got too much plastic surgery then had a bit of a mini-comeback in the 2000's thanks to directors like Tony Scott and Robert Rodriguez.  2008's The Wrestler would be the piece de resistance in his climb back up the hill.  Critics loved the film, Rourke was nominated for several awards and was back in the limelight.  But most of his interviews were marred with weepy, woe is me fluff like being abused as a child (disputed by his immediate family), being blacklisted in Hollywood (openly badmouthed his own films and people involved) and whining that nobody taught him you shouldn't act like an asshole if you're not famous and make people money.

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Van Damme shot to the near top of the action movie hero mountain with low budget karate flicks like Bloodsport and Kickboxer before transitioning into polished studio fare like Universal Soldier and Timecop.  A worldwide star with appeal to men, women and children, JCVD never broke through to the top tier and saw his career crumble in an avalanche of egomaniacal behavior, substance abuse and domestic disputes.  He turned down a 3-picture deal worth $36 million with Universal who told him to "have a nice life" before hanging up on him.  Direct to Video fare would follow but JCVD always pushed for something different with serious, inspired performances in Wake of Death, In Hell and Until Death.  After a villainous role in Expendables II, JCVD has appeared in weirdly personal yet funny ads for Coors Light, GoDaddy and now Volvo which has brought him more attention than any film in the last 20 years.

During the 90's, JCVD was one of those who revered Mickey Rourke as an actor, believing Rourke was on the same level as DeNiro.  Even though Rourke had lost a step, JCVD believed his talent would win through and a comeback was possible.  The two were friends and neighbors in Santa Monica and while Rourke was having trouble securing roles, he ended up playing the villain against Van Damme in Sony's theatrical release, Double Team, in 1997.  There's a great video of the two during production on a night out, both wearing vests to show off their pumped up bodies, kissing each other on the mouth and Rourke proclaiming Van Damme to be an underestimated actor but with skills on par with DeNiro.  Cut to 2008 and Rourke is calling Van Damme a "has been" in interviews.  That's gratitude for you.

With an Oscar nomination followed by villain roles in Iron Man II and Immortals and a cameo in The Expendables, Rourke seems to have won the 2008 Comeback Award.  But heat only lasts so long and his last four films have all gone direct to video with no theatrical prospects looming.  Jean-Claude Van Damme seemed like an idiot for cancelling his appearances to promote JCVD to take care of a sick dog but life repaid him as the dog lived, Sylvester Stallone came calling for Expendables II and his series of commercials have been viewed by millions as clever, insightful and totally unexpected.  Looks like JCVD wins the Life Award.

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