Please note there will be spoilers.
Late phase Jean-Claude Van Damme has been interesting and frustrating so far, movies are a bit hit or miss, as per usual but at the center is Van Damme's magnetic and stunned performances. His face is a cinematic landscape now, every line rends the celluloid, every gesture forlorn. A tired and encompassing sadness of being left, excavating the moment. Shaping and redefining himself as a monument to the post-action cinema narrative and post prime career hollowness.
The Bouncer/Lukas is finally the vessel to carry these intentions. Structured as the sequel to a standard action/revenge movie, it lingers on what is left after you have carried out your purpose. An action movie character looking for a job, fighting for scraps. As focal point there is a fine, low key father/daughter relation grounding Lukas (Van Damme) distant, skulking cinematic form, positioning him as still deriving a semblance of humanity. A few scenes in JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008), an otherwise pretentious misstep, was on point deshiffering what was always there: In Jean-Claude Van Damme there is a sensitivity and a naive misdirected vulnerability. All this is still present but intertwined with this meta-action/career meditation on tiredness and loss. In John Hyams Universal Soldier sequels, Lukas more hardcore, dark sci-fi brethren, the repetitiveness of masculine ritual, cloning and violence commented on action cinema and exhaustion. There almost nothing was left in the end, ruins of men chopping away at each other with bladed weapons, opening up the meat. Lukas, in a simple yet effective manner, through echoes, and mirrored scenes meditate on similar themes but retains a humanity. There is still something to grasp at. Industrial machines echo the techno music at Lukas work and other rhythmic and visual remains reverberates throughout. Van Damme moving through spaces, all skulking, shadowy back. Looking for a way back inside, out of breath and stated, but never one to quit.
Van Damme with his precise, clean lines, his awareness of physical space, of positioning and of grace, was always a sculptural object (often objectified, and sometimes having a laugh). The older Van Damme raises this perception, whittling out his form, imbuing the image with a sharp stillness and adds those weathered deep alleys and lines of his cinematic face.
Lukas might be a small, maybe even uneventful movie but it's also a controlled and nuanced resounding success, Van Damme is coming home.