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Jean-Claude Van Damme is Himself and ‘Jean-Claude Van Johnson’ on Amazon Prime
December 15, 2017  | By David Hinckley

I admit it: Back in the day, I was a sucker for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. I make no excuses. I just was.

Now he’s back – in Jean-Claude Van Johnson, an action-adventure-satire-comedy that becomes available Friday on the streaming service Amazon Prime.

And I’m, frankly, needing a little time to adjust.

This time around Van Damme plays Jean-Claude Van Damme, a one-time action hero movie icon who has retired into obscurity.

He uses a motorized scooter to travel down the driveway to pick up the morning paper. Just the fact he picks up a morning paper pretty much dates him, right? Though it could be an homage to Tony Soprano.

He fixes Pop Tarts for breakfast. He still has beautiful women after him, and he patiently explains to them that his shower runs coconut water.

He goes out for lunch to a noodle place where they don’t cook the noodles. The waiter explains to him that it isn’t a restaurant, it’s “a pop-up experience.”

The setup goes on. It’s a riot.

Van Damme looks the part of an old one-time action movie hero who can’t figure out how to keep from looking like an old one-time action movie hero. Think Sylvester Stallone, if you’ve seen him lately.

It turns out, furthermore, that Van Damme also had a second, secret life. He worked black ops under the subtle pseudonym, Jean-Claude Van Johnson. Who would have ever connected that guy to Jean-Claude Van Damme?

He retired from that gig as well, about two years ago. But he has unfinished business, and not from some job where he destroyed an entire army of terrorists with four slick ninja moves.

Nope, it’s about a dame. Specifically, it’s about Vanessa (Kat Foster), his former black ops partner.

They were a team and were on the brink of getting hitched when he disappeared without a word, leaving Vanessa puzzled for a spell until she decided to call the whole thing off.  

Now that he’s finally returned, he says he has an explanation. She doesn’t want to hear it. She tells him she’s flying off to a new assignment in Bulgaria.

He calls on his old boss and adoring friend Jane (Phylicia Rashad), who gets him reinstated and assigned to, yup, Bulgaria.

His cover gig is that he’s making a comeback as an action movie star. Only trouble is that things don’t work the way they used to. It’s not just that he can’t make the old movies, but that directors don’t want the old moves. They want new-jack action when he can’t even do old-jack action anymore.

As he tries to will himself back into shape, you get the feeling a lot of inside-Hollywood jokes are being scattered around. There’s definitely a lot of slapstick.

Yet at the heart, Van Damme remains a guy who wasn’t the greatest actor ever, but who stayed in his lane and became a force back in the golden age of action movies.

In the reincarnated version, he’s goofing on his old self the same way his fans used to goof on it, probably with much the same affection.

Sorting out this story takes more time than it took to sort out the plotlines of his vintage flicks. If you got that time, give Jean-Claude Van Johnson a shot.=

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