The new Amazon series “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” teeters somewhere between its absurd self-referential concept and an amusing offbeat action flick.
In the six-part show, global martial-arts film star Jean-Claude Van Damme plays “Jean-Claude Van Damme,” a global martial-arts film star. The fictional Jean-Claude of the series lives in retirement, puttering around his estate. One night he spots his former lover, Vanessa (Kat Foster), who is an undercover spy. So too, we learn, was Jean-Claude, only he worked under the name Van Johnson.
He reconnects with his old contacts and is assigned to go undercover on an action movie set in Bulgaria, ostensibly to take down some drug kingpins, but really it’s to get next to Vanessa, who works as a hairdresser on the film.
She goes along, not entirely unhappy about the development. The film is kung-fu remake of “Huckleberry Finn,” in which Jean-Claude is Huck, whose lover, Tom, is played by a woman, in a story about defeating the Confederacy.
One night while on a mission Jean-Claude – “I’m king of the splits” – runs across a frightened maintenance man, Philip, who looks like him (also played by Van Damme). Jean-Claude tells him the plot of 1994’s “Timecop” to explain the situation. Eventually, the bad guys discover the resemblance and set Philip up as a lookalike.
It isn’t long before the spy reality and the movie reality overlap, particularly when some baddies come after J-C. Thinking he’s capturing great fight scenes, the director is ecstatic. When his assistant points out that automatic weapons weren’t used in the 1850s, the director tells her no one cares about things like that.
The meta-concept for “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” is from Dave Callaham, the creator and showrunner. The longtime action hero known as The Muscles From Brussels still has a kick and seems to enjoy spoofing his image, gleefully slicing and dicing his career.
At six episodes, the series has enough drive to sustain…