Hands down, Robert Downey Jr. is the 2008 poster child for career reinvention, but there's a strong and surprising runner-up in this category: Jean-Claude Van Damme. In JCVD, the fading action star takes a fine, fun opportunity to skewer his own image and the Hollywood system by which he was made and unmade.
Playing a version of himself, Van Damme is on a trip back to Brussels after a rough custody fight in L.A. when he becomes involved in a bank robbery. To everyone outside, including the police, Van Damme is one of the perps, but it's not as simple as that. Writer-director Mabrouk El Mechri uses a nonlinear pattern to present all sides of the story, and a sepia-toned style that's very big-screen friendly.
It's not particularly subtle at times, as when the director of Van Damme's latest Bulgarian-shot paycheck uses a picture of the Hollywood sign for a dartboard, but it's very knowing of the netherworld where former A-list stars can end up when they move down the alphabet.
Van Damme not only plays along, he gives a performance no one saw coming. While there are jokes that play to the star's fans (a running John Woo thread is a nice touch), his climactic monologue about the guilt of the self-aware celebrity is enough to make anyone's jaw drop.