'Jean-Claude Van Johnson' tries too Van Damme hard

Jean-Claude Van Damme (Photo: Amazon)
Jean-Claude Van Damme (Photo: Amazon)

A fun idea that is too easily exhausted, Jean-Claude Van Johnson, premiering on Amazon Prime on Friday, finds action-movie veteran Jean-Claude Van Damme ridiculing his own image in the service of a six-episode comedy series. In this show created by Dave Callaham (The Expendables), Van Damme is, by his own description, a once “super-famous” star who has settled into semiretirement and a funk: He misses the love of his life, a woman named Vanessa (Kat Foster). Restless and irritable, he decides to revive his career as an international spy who uses the code name “Johnson.” His handler in these missions is The Cosby Show’s Phylicia Rashad, whose cover is as Van Damme’s mostly useless movie agent.

It doesn’t take long for Van Damme/Johnson to be sent on a mission to track down some “bloodthirsty drug-runners” while working undercover as an actor in a martial-arts remake of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If you’re giggling at that setup, I think it’s because these ideas work better in print than in execution. There are some well-staged action scenes in the opening episode — Van Damme still knows how to throw and take a punch, even if, in his late 50s, he’s no longer “the master of the splits” — but you don’t come to this show for bloodlust or nail-biting suspense.

The whole international-spy thing gets repetitive fast. Kat Foster is awfully appealing as her own sort of intelligence agent whose cover is that she’s Van Damme’s hairdresser — it’s easy to see why the action hero still pines for her. That on-again, off-again romance isn’t very sustaining, however. The show is likable — no more, no less.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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