I’d like to see Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris try to pull off what Jean-Claude Van Damme achieves in his new (hopefully) Amazon show Jean-Claude Van Johnson. It would be awful.
I’ve long held that in his old age, Jean-Claude Van Damme has quietly grown into a fine actor. A lot of this has to the with the qualities age has granted his face. No longer the smirking goofball we remember from ‘90s action films, Van Damme now exudes a near constant weariness. You see and feel the years behind him, something that greatly aides the believability of his characters.
But he’s capable of so much more than standing in front of a camera looking sad and worn down by life. Van Damme remains in great physical condition. He can move. He can kick. He can do the splits. At fifty-five, he’s still not afraid of doing scenes with his shirt off or pulling off his own fight choreography.
And he’s surprisingly skilled with comedy, in a way no one could have predicted from his theatrical heyday. Van Damme can go broad, as we’ve seen in Welcome to the Jungle and a number of goofy commercials. He can also mine comedy simply from not giving a fuck, as you’ll hopefully discover when you see his new Kickboxer movie. But his comedy can be subtle as well. He's great, for instance, with small non-verbal reactions.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson mixes all these strengths and creates the perfect JCVD vehicle. Van Damme gets to do everything here. He’s sad and worn down by life. He gets to participate in fight scenes that prove he’s not yet too old for this stuff. And he gets to make jokes big and small, many pointed directly at himself.
The premise does some impressive heavy lifting as well. JCVD plays himself as an assassin who uses his movie career as a cover. This provides not only a ton of great in-universe jokes (the pilot finds him working on an action update of Huck Finn written by Max Landis) but also a clever meta joke about why JCVD chooses to star in such lowbrow schlock in foreign countries - he doesn’t read scripts; all he cares about is positioning himself near his mark. Granted, I heartily disagree with the notion that his VOD output is negligible garbage, but this show is designed more for people to whom JCVD represents a washed-up joke.
Which is what gives me hope. I find Jean-Claude Van Johnson an almost perfect gift for my particular tastes. The idea that there might be a funny, sincerely well-made Jean-Claude Van Damme show on the internet is like a dream come true. But it’s not really made for me. It plays to a broader audience of folks who have already made their minds up about this guy and serves to hopefully prove them wrong. Jean-Claude Van Damme pulled off a dramatic version of this years ago with the great JCVD. With the addition of farce and humor, and a sizable platform like Amazon, perhaps more people will respond to what he has to offer, people who already make goofy Timecop jokes of their own or love to laugh at JCVD’s Hard Target hair.
Obviously, I hope the show gets to continue. Its fate is up to viewers and how Amazon perceives their enthusiasm for the show. So not only do I hope you watch it, but I hope you tell others to watch it as well. If this doesn’t go to series, I am going to be seriously disappointed in everyone. And I WILL do the splits and punch your nuts.