Jean-Claude Van Damme obviously has an exquisite sense of timing. How else could the 1980s action star deliver a flying snap kick with such precision that his foot stops just millimeters from somebody’s face?
But who knew that the star of “Timecop” and “Double Impact” had such exquisite comic timing as well?
Van Damme’s goofy sense of humor is on full display in the gonzo action comedy series “Jean-Claude Van Johnson,” which premiered its six-episode first season last weekend on Amazon Prime. It probably helps to have an affection for Van Damme’s old action movies, especially “Timecop,” to really appreciate it.
Van Damme first sent up his action-hero image in the 2008 indie comedy “JCVD,” playing himself as a faded movie star, reduced to starring in cheapo direct-to-DVD action movies shot in Eastern Europe. The new Amazon show pushes that farther, as Van Damme is reduced to starring in a blockbuster action reboot of “Huckleberry Finn” shot somewhere in Bulgaria.
But wait! In the show, it turns out Van Damme was always a real-life secret agent while he was making those old movies. Now he’s been brought out of retirement by his old boss (Phylicia Rashad) to investigate a scheme to control the planet’s weather.
Much kicking and punching ensues. At 57, Van Damme has lost a step as a martial artist, but only a step. But more fun than the action is the show’s clever parody of bad action movies. The second episode, for example, features a riff on “Fast & The Furious” where Van Damme and the bad guy settle a score with a drag race blindfolded. It doesn’t go well.
The third episode trots out the “identical twin” conceit of Van Damme’s own “Double Impact,” as Van Damme plays both himself and Filip, his Kermit-voiced body double. Filip gets pressured by the bad guys into working for them, which leads to some pretty funny mix-ups as the two Van Dammes collide.
The writing is clever, and “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” was directed by Peter Atencio, who similarly mixed over-the-top action and broad comedy for Key & Peele in their 2016 movie “Keanu.” But the real draw here is, of course, Van Damme. At this stage of his career, he could have relaxed in his Hollywood mansion, maybe surfacing every once in a while to cash a check in an “Expendables” sequel.
But seeing him push himself into the unfamiliar territory of meta comedy, and being so good at it, is a real kick in the head.
Also on streaming: Netflix may have its first holiday action blockbuster with “Bright,” premiering this Friday. The $100 million movie stars Will Smith as a Los Angeles cop who gets a new partner (Joel Edgerton). The twist is that the partner is an orc, and that “Bright” takes place in a world where orcs, elves and other fantasy creatures are real.
We may be too old to get toys for Christmas, but “The Toys That Made Us” may be the next best thing. The eight-episode Netflix documentary series, which also premieres Friday, looks back at some of the most iconic toys of past generations, including Barbie dolls and G.I. Joe dolls (excuse me, “action figures”).