Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, action movies were everywhere. And one of the genre’s biggest stars was Jean-Claude Van Damme. I can’t deny that “Bloodsport,” “Kickboxer,” “Double Impact,” “Universal Soldier,” and “Timecop” were staples of my early years.
But that was a long time ago, and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career has seen better days. Now he’s playing himself in the Amazon comedy pilot “Jean-Claude Van Johnson,” an action-movie spoof from “The Expendables” writer Dave Callaham.
In the pilot, Jean-Claude plays a retired (actually retired, not Nic Cage retired) action movie star. But he also plays a former undercover operative, part of a Hollywood network that uses movie-making as a front for covert black ops.
The half-hour pilot sees the action hero, (codename: Johnson) come out of retirement and return to the world of international ass-kicking, to try to win back the girl he loves (a fellow agent played by Kat Foster).
The romance plot is there, but it really isn’t the main focus of the episode, but it does have some nice moments. Van Damme’s action scenes look great, so good in fact I don’t know if you can call them spoofs. One scene in particular will remind old fans why you liked Van Damme movies in the first place, and the scene even pokes fun at itself which worked well.
If you’re worried about the quality of the action, don’t be. The show runners make the best of Van Damme by having him play it straight. The episode’s opening sequence, set to a mournful French ballad, created a subdued scene that used Van Damme’s acting ability to best effect. In just a couple of minutes, the actor gives us a glimpse at what he’s become: a lonely washed-up movie star adrift in a luxury home filled with plumbed-in coconut water, and a monogrammed Segway. And I will say, this sequence was all it took for me to be hooked.
The episode’s past-it training montage had several laughs, as did the ax fight Van Damme was supposed to be doing for a movie. But the show’s biggest laughs come from Van Damme acting. Yeah, the guy is making plenty of jokes about himself, but it worked.
Let me put it this way: My wifey can’t stand Jean-Claude Van Damme. Why, I do not know. But the way she reacted when I said I was watching this pilot, you’d think Van Damme stole her dog or something. Anywho, she was in the living room while I watched the episode, and she loved it!
If “The Jean-Claude Van Johnson” can change my wifey’s mind, maybe it can change others who don’t have fond memories of Van Damme’s movies. I just hope Amazon picks up the series, and gives us more Van Johnson.
The Jean-Claude Van Johnson pilot is available to stream on Amazon now.