Jean-Claude Van Johnson – Amazon’s One Trick Pony?

Logo for Jean-Claude Van Johnson

Amazon’s pilot season is here and first up is “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” starring JCVD as himself, but not in his usual role of action hero.  In this outing Jean-Claude has a hidden side, a “black-ops” side.  Both JCVD and JCVJ are retired. Van Johnson, however steps out of retirement, which in turn brings Van Damme back into the business.

In some ways, this all feels too Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. While Jean-Claude  Van Damme is not Chuck Barris  in disguise, the premise is very much the same as the memoir. A famous figure has a double life as a trained wet work operator (or on Barris’ case a CIA agent.)

The pilot and its star are funny.  Although it is disturbing to see Jean-Claude looking “rough as old Harry.”  The muscles from Brussels may only be 56, and his physique looks years younger, but his visage looks more than a little worn.

Still, JCVD carries off his comic role with aplomb regardless of his battered features.

The storyline has Van Damme at a low point in his life.  He may live in a mansion and have coconut water coming out of the taps (faucets) but the man is clearly depressed.   He decides to un-retire when he bumps into old flame Vanessa (Kat Foster) who is leaving for a mission in Bulgaria. 

Jean-Claude meets with his agent Jane (Phylicia Rashad).  After going through a pile of Paramount scrips,  she learns that he is returning as “Johnson” not Damme. He gets sent to Bulgaria to work on a film as JCVD but has a black ops mission as JCVJ. 

The pilot is chock full of gags.  A lot of these poke fun at Jean-Claude and his getting older. Although we never believe for an instant that the man known for his splits suddenly has a problem.

“Jean-Claude Van Johnson” has a number of jokes aimed at the industry and society’s preoccupation with all things “PC.” The film in Bulgaria is a re-imaging of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  The gag, apart from Tom being a buxom blonde female, is “N” word Jim. (This will only mean something to fans of the Mark Twain books.)

There is an amusing reference to Timecop.  Van Johnson says it is comparable to Bruce Willis’ Looper “but a thousand times better.”  At his assignment, JCVJ is in disguise and everyone calls him, “Philippe.”  A nice build up to a funny moment.

The basic premise is that Jean-Claude is following his former lover Vanessa into the business.  Never mind that Kat Foster is 18 years younger than JVCD…

None of this is to be taken seriously however. It is a giggle, a lark for the fans of Van Damme.  Although exactly how it can be stretched for a weekly format is unclear. JCVD as an unrecognizable retired action star is funny. But how are they going to maintain the “out of shape” bit?

Still, the pilot is amusing. There is a bit with a flexible baton and Jean-Claude’s face that is very funny. A few other sight gags work well also and while the entire episode is not exactly “laugh out loud” funny, it does provoke many a chuckle.

(In terms of jokes, the “one at a time” gag is quite good as well.)

“Jean-Claude Van Johnson” may not really take off as a series.  Amazon may have some brilliant ideas but it does seem too much like a one trick pony. (Or a one joke show.)  In the pilot  Van Damme is good with his comedic role, opting to play it straight for all intents and purposes. And this works brilliantly.

Fans will definitely want to give this one a look. It is streaming on Amazon right now as part of their Pilot Season. Check out the trailer below and then check out the show. It is free as part of the “pilot” promotion.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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