Thanks to some pics released last week, we got our first look Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Johnson… No, wait. That’s not right. Jean-Claude Van Johnson. Yes, that’s it. Jean-Claude Van Johnson, the new Amazon comedy that sees JCVD playing… well, himself. Sort of. Check out the synopsis below – which explains it all – as well, as the first official teaser trailer which may not be what you expect.
If you need to eliminate a political rival, debilitate a multinational corporation, or overthrow an entire government—and you need it done with the utmost secrecy—there’s only one person to turn to: one of the most internationally recognizable movie stars in the history of film. Jean-Claude Van Johnson stars Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD) playing “Jean-Claude Van Johnson,” a global martial arts and film sensation…and, operating under the simple alias of “Johnson,” the most dangerous undercover private contractor in the world. Lucky for the world’s bad guys, he’s been retired for years…unlucky for them, a chance encounter with a lost love is about to bring him back to the game…and this time, he’ll be deadlier than ever. Probably.
…Okay, then. That was surreal.
UPDATE: And here’s another at the pilot from the 1:10 mark in this video from Amazon showing off the pilot season.
Of course the last time Van Damne went surreal in some form of self-parody, we got the absolutely incredible JCVD. And it appears that the formula is proving to be a huge success again as the pilot episode for Jean-Claude Van Johnson debuted on Amazon Prime over the weekend, and already there are plenty of really great reviews out for it. Here’s a sampling of some of them.
The best part of Jean-Claude Van Johnson is its winking satire of Hollywood and absurdity of the movie business —especially action movies. A number of fake movies are woven in with the story, and most of them seem bizarrely possible (example: an action movie called “Huck” with a female Tom Sawyer as the love interest). There are also plenty of references to JCVD’s 80s movies, like when he approaches a group of villains and the leader instructs them, “No, no, [fight him] one at a time or it gets confusing!”
Probably the most absurd yet most entertaining of the Amazon pilots this time around, Jean-Claude Van Johnson highlights JCVD’s recent commitment to making fun of himself, which works because he’s still doing amazing stunts and physical work. He kicks and splits and kicks some more to take down the bad guys, all while spouting an impressive amount of asides and one-liners.
I’ve long held that in his old age, Jean-Claude Van Damme has quietly grown into a fine actor. A lot of this has to the with the qualities age has granted his face. No longer the smirking goofball we remember from ‘90s action films, Van Damme now exudes a near constant weariness. You see and feel the years behind him, something that greatly aides the believability of his characters.
But he’s capable of so much more than standing in front of a camera looking sad and worn down by life. Van Damme remains in great physical condition. He can move. He can kick. He can do the splits. At fifty-five, he’s still not afraid of doing scenes with his shirt off or pulling off his own fight choreography. And he’s surprisingly skilled with comedy, in a way no one could have predicted from his theatrical heyday.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson mixes all these strengths and creates the perfect JCVD vehicle. Van Damme gets to do everything here. He’s sad and worn down by life. He gets to participate in fight scenes that prove he’s not yet too old for this stuff. And he gets to make jokes big and small, many pointed directly at himself.
This is a very funny pilot with writer Dave Callaham (whose own action-heavy resume includes The Expendables) and director Peter Atencio (Keanu, Key & Peele) doing a great job combining the comedic and action elements. Van Damme’s history — and the era that begat his career — are lovingly roasted along the way, as are tried but true action movie elements like the training montage.
Van Damme is still, for the most part, not the most emotive of actors, but again, he’s in on the joke, and seems to be enjoying himself in the process.
While not every joke lands here, the majority do, and Jean-Claude Van Johnson does a good job parodying not just action movies and Van Damme specifically, but also the Hollywood system and the constant search to reboot and update familiar titles. Suffice to say, it gets mileage out of both the acting world and the spy world its lead character exists in.
“’Timecop’ is like ‘Looper’ with Bruce Willis, but a million times better,” is just one of the gems spoken in “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” which is as gloriously ridiculous as its title.
What the Amazon pilot lacks in plot — action star Jean-Claude Van Damme comes out of retirement to act as a private contractor specializing in kicking ass and doing the splits — it makes up for with indiscriminate jabs at everything and anyone, including its star, Hollywood, pretentious foodies and even America’s Undulating Beefcake, Channing Tatum. A surprising appearance by Phylicia Rashad, who gamely plays Jean-Claude’s agent, is a comic revelation. She delivers the most absurd movie pitches with such enthusiasm that we’re ready to sign up for the “P.F. Chang’s” biopic ourselves.
Fellow fans of ‘80s action movies and Hollywood satire: We may have found heaven. For as much as some of us have enjoyed the mindless, action-packed fun of The Expendables franchise – though the third installment’s domestic box office results hint that the fun may be over – JCVJ is far more creative and clever. That’s not a knock on David Callaham, writer of The Expendables, because he’s also the writer of Jean-Claude Van Johnson. If The Expendables is all-you-can-eat appetizers at T.G.I. Friday’s, JCVJ is filet mignon at The Capital Grille.
Well, I think it’s safe to say that I definitely cannot wait to see this now.
Last Updated: August 22, 2016