Verdict: 4 / 5
Only Jean-Claude Van Damme could play Jean-Claude Van Damme in a film about Jean-Claude Van Damme and his secret life as the highly trained international spy Jean-Claude Van Johnson. It’s an idea so outrageous, so smart and so unexpected that the laugh-out-loud action spoof actually works really well. Fans of JCVD’s original films will definitely feel a special kinship towards the show, which hilariously offers insider jokes and a side to the actor we rarely get to see on screen. The Timecop star isn’t afraid of being the butt of a joke and doesn’t take himself as seriously as some might think. These six binge-worthy episodes of Van Johnson are easily his best work to date.
Imagine a kung-fu remake of Huckleberry Finn starring a rumpled JCVD as Huck. Imagine it was a film about defeating the Confederacy. Imagine his love interest was a woman named Tom. This is the sort of ridiculous subplots that play out through Jean-Claude Van Johnson. For the first time, Van Damme is allowed to stretch his acting muscles and offer us something very different from what we’ve seen before. In Van Johnson, he wonderfully takes on many funny action character cliches, including a few that take a stab at his previous films. Nothing is off limits – not his failing career or his ageing looks. And of course, it not only offers loads of comedy but tons of kicks, spins and deadpan one-liners too.
When the pilot episode for Amazon’s Jean-Claude Van Johnson first screened last year, we were genuinely surprised by how clever it was. Who would have thought that the Muscles From Brussels would do an amusing action satire TV series? And who would have thought it could actually work? We apologise for underestimating your abilities, JCVD.
Here Van Damme plays a retired mess. He’s not “Nicolas Cage retired,” he tells a waiter. He is “retired” retired. The fictional Jean-Claude is retired from black-ops duties as a secret agent who has been posing as a Hollywood star while doing secret missions to save the world on the side. Using his public persona, he fights evil under the identity of Jean-Claude Van Johnson. After many years of depression, he longs to return to his black-ops work, and of course, that means returning to his Hollywood work as well. He reconnects with his old friends and contacts and soon enters the world of espionage again. However, things aren’t as simple as he remembers. He is a little out of touch with Hollywood and old age has dampened his skill set somewhat.
Creator, writer, and executive producer Dave Callaham, who helped put together The Expendables films, clearly has a knack for creating these homage films. It’s easy to tell that he genuinely appreciates the actor’s work. Anyone who grew up in the ’90s will enjoy it. It’s a really fun ode to the actor’s career.
If Jean-Claude Van Johnson achieves nothing else, it’s proven that Van Damme has a lot more to offer than just playing bulky cardboard cutout characters. Welcome back, JCVD!