Jean-Claude Van Johnson: what if the ‘rubbish’ straight to DVD movies JCVD made in the between the bigger films were just cover for his super-agent alter ego to carry out real black ops missions? That’s the premise for the Amazon pilot Jean-Claude Van Johnson. The episode has a lot of great action genre and movie business digs and jokes; although some of the more general jokes fall a bit flatter, focusing on easy targets like hipsters, pop-up restaurants, vaping etc. The scrip is littered with witty LOL moments like an entire Looper / Timecop debate, and lines like “I’m real retired, not like Nicolas Cage retired“. While the love interest angle doesn’t quite work with the meager time assigned to it; it has potential to grow through a full season. The Van Johnson pilot is handled beautifully, and clearly made with affection for JCVD’s career and filmography… It’s also great that a star of his stature can poke this much fun at himself; making this an absolute must-watch for any JCVD or action B-movie fans.
Pain and Gain: A group of dim bodybuilders kidnap and extort some rich folks. This basically takes a bizarre true-crime story and gives it the Michael Bay treatment (boob job, botox, facelift etc). If there ever was a director with an unsympathetically “In-Yer-Face!” style, it would be Mr Bay. Every female in this is a big-titted supermodel, there’s scenes in strip-clubs where the camera just stares at topless strippers (I felt bad for not tipping), there’s a raft of un-PC/racist jokes, there’s midgets, supercar fascination, drugs, pumped up bodies, dildos / sex toys, dick and homo jokes, and generally everything is over-styalised, and turned up way past 11. In fact; Rebel Wilson’s token crude material is probably the least offensive thing in this. The direction is equally aggressive; resembling high-end music-videos with vibrant colours, rapid cuts, loud music, a superficial glaze, and plenty on-screen stamps/graphics reminding you of what you should be thinking. And having this much character narration is just plain-old sloppy for a director that’s been around as long as Bay. Despite all of the unlikable elements coming from behind the lens, at least he chose some of the most sympathetic and charismatic actors to front the movie: Wahlberg, The Rock, Anthony Mackie… however, these guys are playing cold-blooded, pre-emptive killers, who are picking on hard-working, self-made targets – hard to empathise with. On the upside, there a lot of laughs to be had in this, although they’re mostly at the expense of someone. There’s a fascinating story buried somewhere in this film, but you have to look so far behind all of the bullshit surface that it’s almost impossible to pick out – would have been much better as a less sensational, properly-handled movie.