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.

Spy Time Aka Anacleto: Agente Secreto (2015): Action Comedy Fun (Review)

Anacleto and son in Spy Time

Based on a comic book that parodies the James Bond world of spies and super secret agents, Spy Time (Anacleto: Agente Secreto) is a fun action comedy that is particularly apt for this day and age. Anacleto is the silver-haired suave secret agent who has to deal with a declining budget and a list of enemies that hate him.

One, Vázquez, stages an escape as he is being transported from one prison to another (“A smaller, dirtier, prison,” says Anacleto with more than a little satisfaction.).  As he departs the escort van the secret agent’s nemesis reveals he plans to kill Anacleto and his son Adolfo (Quim Gutiérrez).

Adolfo is a Wilber milquetoast character. A security guard at an electrical shop who is afraid to approach the criminals stealing merchandise from the shop floor.  Adolfo’s girlfriend Katia (Alexandra Jiménez) is breaking up with him because he is boring and does not even have a driving license. 

The two meet up at a nightclub and after she fights with her brother, Martin (Berto Romero), who is Adolfo’s best friend,  Katia and Adolfo have break-up sex at their apartment. After learning that she still intends to leave him, Adolfo goes to sleep on the couch.

Vázquez sends his first assassin to kill Anacleto’s son and a very surprised Adolfo learns that  he can defend himself and kills the Chinaman.  The next morning he goes to tell Katia and finds the apartment is in pristine  condition and that  the dead body is gone.

Adolfo meets his father Anacleto (Imanol Arias) and the two begin to reforge broken bonds and survive the many attempts on their lives. 

Directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera (who specializes in comedy films) and written by a trio of  scribes who based the screenplay on the comic by Manuel Vázquez Gallego Spy Time is a delightful romp that has little gore but some surprisingly brutal violence. 

(The writers who crafted the screenplay are: Pablo AlénBreixo Corral and Fernando Navarro.)

In terms of violence, one character has an long allen wrench shoved into their eye. It is a tad shocking but the act does not detract from the humor. Once again because there is a lack of gore. There are no buckets of claret here;  just enough to show that violence has occurred.

There are many comical moments. Anacleto giving Katia’s entire family truth serum. When Adolfo’s soon-to-be ex girlfriend complains that Anacleto’s son did not get the serum the secret agent protests. “What do you think I am? I’m not going to drug my own son!”

A great bit on assembling IKEA-type furniture and a secret meeting in a Bingo hall (“22, two little ducks”) and some splendid comic stunts make this a very entertaining film to watch. From the ubiquitous  tuxedo and cigarette to the Walther PPK semiautomatic pistol,  the role of Anacleto screams James Bond. But on a modern day EU budget.

The two main actors; Gutiérrez and Arias, look like father and son and their chemistry together is spot on. Arias is brilliant as the calm and self assured secret agent who “Never fails.”  Spy Time was shot in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain and this helps the setting of the film feel authentic.

The Spanish shop fronts and the streets all put the viewer right  there. Viewers who have lived in Europe prepare for a light dose of nostalgia. (A quick sidenote: The fight scene in the covered market is brilliantly choreographed and quite funny.)

Spy Time is a 5 star film, virtually perfect in every way. Funny with a lot of action; shootouts and fights, with more than enough clever dialogue. The pacing is swift and flowing so that the 87  minute runtime feels much faster.  In terms of violence it is a tad severe so consider yourself warned.

The film is streaming on Netflix at the moment. It is a subtitled production so those who cannot cope with foreign films they “have to read” may want to give it a pass. For the rest, put your glasses on and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

Terrordactyl (2016): Tremors in the Air (Review)

Poster Image courtesy MarVista

Two handy men who want better things out of life get caught up in a world changing invasion of space born pterodactyl’s that are hatching at an alarming rate. This MarVista movie could be called “Tremors” in the air except that the threat is to a much larger area; Los Angeles, and the creatures are not unknown.

Written and co-directed by Don Bitters III (Geoff Reisner was the other director on the feature) “Terrordactyl” is a bit of horror and science fiction hokum dressed up as an action comedy. It is not incredibly violent, there are not buckets of gore and the language may just be the roughest thing in the film.

Starring Christopher John Jennings as Lars, the “smarter” of the two gardening men, Jason Tobias, who plays the Kevin Bacon role in the film, Candice Nunes is Candice, the love interest and kick-arse female lead and character actor Jack E. Curenton channels his inner Rip Torn (think “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” here) to good comic effect.

A meteor shower hits LA and Candice, the bartender that Jonas has a crush on, tells him of how valuable these rocks from space are. He talks Lars into finding one and they do, somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. After taking the thing to Candice to look at, they realize a pterodactyl is following them everywhere. Soon the group learn that there are a lot more than one.

The action is not over the top and sometimes the comedy feels a little flat. However, the infection enthusiasm of Tobias as Jonas is compelling and the chemistry between the actors is spot on. Not a film to be taken seriously, this is a nod and wink to all those “it came from outer space” horror and science fiction films.

While the filmmakers could be seen as taking a leaf from The Asylum production team, the FX are more acceptable and work well in the context. Apart from the swearing, this is a film that could be enjoyed by the entire family.

The flying and attacking pterodactyls look an excellent cross between practical and CG effects and help deliver on the comedy front quite well. All the actors really sell their reactions to the menacing creatures and this alone helps make the movie that little bit more believable.

The storyline works and the locations, the film was shot around LA, also feed into the plot line very well. This could have been a SyFy film with its low budget and quirky menace but it plays a little bit better than the average creature feature on the channel.

Available on Demand and via HD streaming this is an amusing little gem that will make you chuckle. A solid 3 out of 5 stars for entertainment value alone and the enthusiasm of Nunes and Tobias. At a running time of just over an hour and a half, the pacing is good and there are no lags in the storyline.

“Terrordactyl” will be available to view on June 14. Give this one a go and see what you think.

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