Jean-Claude Van Damme’s New Movie Mocks His 1990s Action Films
Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Netflix action-comedy The Last Mercenary lampoons his early action movie stardom, including elements of his ’90s movies.
Jean-Claude Van Damme’s new Netflix action comedy The Last Mercenary lampoons certain elements of his early action movie stardom. Van Damme’s career took off in earnest in the late ’80s and early ’90s with movies like Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Cyborg, and Lionheart, before he rose to mainstream recognition with hits like Universal Soldier, Hard Target, and Timecop.
Van Damme would hit a career slump in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but he bounced back with 2008’s meta semi-biopic JCVD, a viral commercial performing his famed split between two semi-trucks, and several collaborations with Scott Adkins, including a villainous turn in The Expendables 2.
Van Damme’s contemporary career has seen him evolve into more dramatic work and mentor roles, including in the rebooted Kickboxer movies. However, he still finds time to engage in a little comedy in movies like Welcome to the Jungle and his voice work as Master Croc in the Kung Fu Panda sequels. The Last Mercenary falls right into that as an action comedy, and in some ways almost plays like a parody of a ’90s Van Damme movie that happens to star the genuine article.
One aspect of The Last Mercenary in particular that really pokes fun at Van Damme’s ’90s image as a martial arts movie star is the abundant use wigs by his character Richard Brumère. Used as tools of blending in, the cascading locks Brumère dons very clearly aren’t something to keep as a permanent look, but they’re also an exaggerated spin on some of the mullet-style hairdos Van Damme adopted from time to time, particular the greasy mullet of Chance Boudreaux in 1993’s Hard Target – itself another distinctly ’90s look that worked in the context of the film, but hasn’t aged too gracefully.
To be sure, Guile’s carrot top in 1994’s Street Fighter takes the honor of the worst hairstyle in a Van Damme movie by a longshot, and Van Damme rocked a not-too-bad mullet that same year in Timecop. However, The Last Mercenary shows that Van Damme doesn’t mind poking a little fun at the image he cultivated during his career rise. The film mines a good amount of dry humor in overplaying his hairpieces longer than Van Damme ever had his hair to Tommy Wiseau lengths, all in good fun while slyly parodying some of the longer hairstyles he would occasionally adopt in the 90’s.
The Last Mercenary isn’t without references to Van Damme’s ’80s work either, blatantly referencing Bloodsport in a fight scene when Brumère punches an opponent in the groin.
Of course, to get the full Van Damme movie experience, a 180-degree split is necessary, which The Last Mercenary knocks out early on when Brumère braces his feet in a split position between two stone columns in a ceiling while hiding from his enemies, in a face down position that he couldn’t possibly maintain, and the movie also riffs on the famed dance sequence in Kickboxer.
Like with all the references to Van Damme’s early career in The Last Mercenary, it’s all a comedic embellishment of the image he built up for himself in the ’90s, in everything from stunning displays of flexibility to hairstyles that don’t always stand the test of time.