Van Damme is the Bomb

Tuesday, August 25, 8:37 p.m. (CST)--

EVEN BY THE bombastic standards of Planet Hollywood (by which I mean not only the restaurant chain but our global multiplex empire), today's meta-movie has been explosive. Just hours ago, a bomb tore through the symbolic heart of American cinema--a Planet Hollywood eatery in Cape Town, South Africa--killing one person and injuring a dozen others. And while a representative of Muslims Against Global Oppression is busy denying responsibility for the attack, a syndicated piece in the Strib reports that American Muslim and Arab-American anti-defamation groups are gearing up to protest The Siege, a forthcoming Hollywood epic about Middle Eastern terrorism (and American xenophobia) in the Big Apple.

Finally, and, alas, most significantly, actor Jean-Claude Van Damme is in the Twin Cities today to promote his latest, Knock Off, about "a Russian Mafia scheme to bring a deadly secret technology--microbombs--to the worldwide terrorist black market" (per the press kit). In observance of the Cape Town blockbuster, the megamall's Planet Hollywood has called off its PR party for "The Muscles from Brussels," and so I meet the beefy Van Damme in a hastily booked, depressingly shabby "suite" near the airport, my brain abuzz with questions about the action star's view of all this terroristic synergy. But no sooner have I crossed the big guy's threshold than his coastal publicist-cum-bodyguard hits me with this: Keep your questions to the movie, all right? Ah, yes, of course--the knockoff flick that conspicuously hasn't been screened for the press.

"I never talk about politics in my movies," says Van Damme, vaguely addressing my delicately worded query about the modern action icon's responsibility for combustible material. "Politics to me are equal to religion, and religion to me is equal to a big, uh, mole[?!]'s all business. I mean, God has one face. We want to create an image for God but it is more...he's inside us. So he's anything we want him to be--a plant, water, our self. And so religion to me is just...uh, I should not say that, but..." And so he goes on, perversely charming the interviewer while abundantly bearing out the publicist's fears.

Then it dawns on me that maybe the studio mandate is to limit the Van Dammage from discussion of his battles with alimony and cocaine, perhaps in deference to the glossies' desire for exclusivity on such matters. In any case, Van Damme is clearly more comfortable talking about the movie I haven't seen. "I play a guy who's in the clothing business," he says, wearing a skin-tight Oxford shirt unbuttoned to his armored abs, short (and I mean short) khaki shorts, and shiny, black Italian loafers, sans socks. "As a coincidence," he continues in character, "the Russian Mafia is using the buttons of our jeans to put those new, high-tech microbombs inside, so they can blow up the planet."

Talk about life imitating art. In his suite this evening, the star's own form-fitting clothes are so fully loaded that when he leans in to sign my DVD of Hard Target, I must fight the urge to ask, Hey, Van Damme--is that a bomb in your shorts or are you just...

Knock Off is playing at area theaters.

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