By Brian Truitt, USA TODAY
Stallone vs. Van Damme. It's a testosterone-fueled matchup that action-movie fans have been dreaming about since the 1980s and early '90s when both actors were in their heyday, and now fans get to see it in The Expendables 2.
However, for Jean-Claude Van Damme, 51, it's part of a Hollywood comeback after bouts with drugs and bipolar disorder, and something truly special for the "Muscles from Brussels" to share screen time with Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose movies a younger Van Damme would watch on Sundays with his father at the local Belgian cinema.
"It's like a dream come true," Van Damme says. "I never thought in my life I would even be with two of those guys."
The dream continued this weekend as the action flick took in an estimated $28.8 million to finish No. 1.
Van Damme mostly played a good guy after moving from martial arts and bodybuilding to starring in Bloodsport, Cyborg and Kickboxer in the '80s. However, in Expendables 2 he plays the evil Jean Vilain, a man in control of a plutonium mine who is willing to give it up to the highest bidder.
Stallone had wanted to cast Van Damme in the first Expendables in 2010, but the Belgian actor was working on directing his own film. He got him for the second go-round, though, and felt the semi-autobiographical JCVD movie in 2008 showed Van Damme had a certain gravitas as well as the charm of old.
"There's just guys who have or are born with it. He's had it," Stallone says. "He's had his ups and downs, and when you've had that start, all you have to do is reignite it."
Van Damme still has the great moves, too. In the climactic fight of different styles between Vilain and Stallone's Barney Ross - "He wanted to be George Foreman, and he wanted me to be a Muhammad Ali," Van Damme says - he insisted to an initially skeptical director Simon West and stuntmen that he could do the same 360-degree kick he did in Bloodsport 25 years ago.
Van Damme surprised them and himself as well - even with 22 pounds of Stallone-approved extra muscle.
"I was like, 'Whoa. This is cool!' They took their time to put two or three cameras on me so they can show my kick in different angles. They can make it 720," Van Damme says with a laugh.
"When you see those 360 kicks in the air on the big screen, you can see all those veins bulging because the effort is real."