When the pilot for Jean-Claude Van Johnson first popped up on Amazon in August of last year, I have to admit I liked the Dave Callaham-created project, but I really didn’t think it could work as a series. Well, now that the six-episode first season of the series starring Jean-Claude Van Damme is set for a December 15 launch, it’s time for me to admit I was so wrong on that one.
Funny, smart where you don’t expect it, a bit shameless, framed literally and figuratively like a post-modern Buster Keaton, and of course full of deadpan quips, kicks, spins and that surely trademarked split by the Muscles from Brussels, I couldn’t get enough of this rather seriously constructed mix of satire and spycraft executive produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Peter Atencio.
As I say in my video review above, JCVJ takes some of the premise of the 2008 film JCVD to a better place. For one thing, the Timecop star is clearly game and in on the action and the joke. However, that’s just the starting point as the somewhat worse-for-wear Jean-Claude is actually an undercover agent extraordinaire who was been making mostly less than stellar movies in recent decades as cover for his spy gig.
Lending further credence to my belief that Amazon is at its best when it goes wacky and leaves the MOR behind, JCVJ is very meta. A mashup of the Spike Jonez-directed and Nicholas Cage-starring Adaptation and think piece on the perils of action movies, it also is very witty in a way that The Expendables (Van Damme was in the sequel, and Callaham penned the original 2010 film) could never sustain.
With a gym bag full of Hollywood insider jokes and eyebrow-raisers (hello, WME), a David Bowie shout-out and shifts to old-school action move tropes and aesthetics, JCVJ also features a rather delicious performance from Phylicia Rashad as JC’s super agent, operative handler and more. You can see more of my take on Rashad and the series in my video review, but put it this way: the Tony winner makes her recent Diana Dubois stint on Empire look almost kindhearted.
Click on the review and see why you need to get on the horn to Jeff Bezos’ company to give us more soon.