Jean-Claude Van Johnson (2017)
Directed by: Peter Atencio
Written by: Ashley Wigfield, Dave Callaham, Kevin Costello, Vinnie Wilhelm, Wes Tooke
Starring: Bar Paly, Carlo Rota, Deren Tadlock, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kat Foster, Moises Arias, Phylicia Rashad, Tim Peper
JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON (2017)
Available on Amazon Prime Instant Video
Jean-Claude Van Damme returns for a full season of JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON where the martial arts actor stars as a fictionalised version of himself in which being a world famous action movie star is actually a cover for his real career: secret agent.
Tasked with taking down the supplier of HK, a heroin-ketamine combined drug, JCVD is aided by former flame and fellow secret agent Vanessa and tortured soul, makeup artist Luis. Together they must cripple the industry that’s poisoning the landscape by hitting it right at the source in Bulgaria.
Following on from the rib-tickling pilot which featured a comedic Jean-Claude happily poking fun at himself and his career, sprinkled with a bit of nostalgic, 80’s throwback fight choreography and the famous splits, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON continues with a further 5 episodes to round off a short but sweet Season One for Amazon Prime as part of their Amazon Originals lineup.
Jean-Claude is still hard at work on the warped production of HUCK (Huckleberry Finn) in which Tom Sawyer is played by a busty blonde whilst his potential love rival Victor plays N-Word Jim. The latter becomes a thorn in JCVD’s side as he yearns to reignite the flame between himself and Vanessa, causing an interesting debate between himself and Vanessa and later between himself and the director who notices JC’s reluctance in working with Victor. Utilising the tongue-in-cheek, satirical vein of humour that was presented in the pilot, the writer of the series takes these opportunities and others like it and runs with them to bring a shocking but hilarious counter that isn’t afraid to stand and be counted whilst, like its main star, taking the piss out of itself.
Lots of things hinted at in the pilot are followed through throughout the series such as the nod to JCVD’s back catalogue of movies. From Timecop to Bloodsport, there’s references right, left and centre, with some obvious and some not-so. One of my favourites is a nod to the fact that a then-unknown Jean-Claude was set to play the Predator in the original 1987 movie starring Arnie but was promptly fired from the role as he reportedly hated being inside the costume. Whilst he didn’t make it as one of the most beloved and feared aliens in the sci-fi world, it makes for a brilliant, subtle reference opportunity in JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON so keep your eyes peeled!
Everyone who loves JCVD probably does so because of his martial arts capabilities and so fans will be glad to know that there’s still a nice dollop of action to go round, with Jean-Claude’s trademark hook kick making its appearance. Some of the action is slightly edited in a fashion, maybe because JC isn’t as spritely as he once was, but in the grand scheme of things it’s rather minor, especially if you compare the fight choreography to modern action flicks or, *sick bag*, Kickboxer Vengeance! However, the Muscles from Brussels can still do his stuff and his hook kicks and splits will have you rubbing your hands with delight and yearning for more.
The genre of the series can’t really be pinned down. Whilst in some ways JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON takes a serious tone, it mostly plays out for the humour with a penchant for the absurd. Oh yes, expect things to get weird and crazy with fantastical plotlines that will blur the genre completely. At the heart of the series, it’s a kick-ass comedy that thrives on its no-nonsense approach and free, fun-loving spirit. It’s the funniest thing I’ve watched in a long time with the sort of wry humour that I absolutely adore.
When a full television series is commissioned after a pilot has aired, it can sometimes involve recasting but fortunately that isn’t the case here. Returning from the pilot episode are stars Kat Foster as Vanessa, JCVD’s former flame and stellar secret agent in her own right; Moises Arias as Luis, the make-up artist with a dark past and an impressive secret skillset; Tim Pepper as the egotistical, narcissistic hipster director Gunnar who’s always puffing on his ecig; Bar Paly as the blonde bombshell ‘Tom Saywer’; and Phylicia Rashad as JCVD’s agent and head of the secret service agency, Jane. Everyone plays their role to the T with the new additions to the mix, such as Carlo Rota as Dagan Molotov, revelling in their given character. We’ve got to mention the man himself too, JCVD, who is outstanding in the various roles he plays throughout the series, beautifully displaying his range and versatility, something I don’t think we’ve ever really got to see before until now. Like Jean-Claude, it’s clear to see each and every one of the stars is having a ball making the series which is an absolute joy because I too am have a whale of a time simply watching it.
With its zany, out-there plotlines, dry sense of humour and healthy dose of JCVD, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON ticks all the boxes. It’s something I didn’t know I needed in my life but everything I could have ever dreamed of. The entire team, from the writers to the director and the stars themselves, knock it out of the ballpark and my only wish is that they come back for a second season with a series that is significantly longer than the six 30min episodes that make up Season One.
You listening, Amazon? More please!