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Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Review: Kickboxer: Vengeance By- Stephen Folklore
As I was born in the mid 70's, growing up a child in the 80's my foundations for classic and cult films was structurally sound. My many weekly trips to the video store was the highlights of my life. I was surrounded by pop-culture. Whilst other children were out playing gleefully on their bicycles until the sun went down, I was at home in a darkened bedroom studying. That's how I like to remember it now, it certainly wasn't at all a waste. All the research and hours upon hours of watching endless films was like embarking on an unofficial masters degree. I basically have a fucking PHD in Useless Information and you know what? I'm a fucking genius.
Although I love film in general and any category that it throws at me, my favourites have always been horror and martial arts. They have so many traits and similarities (I'll explain all that another time). For every horror film I would rent, I would also take home a schlocky martial arts flick. I dig the extremely awful B-movie type to the more commercial, so you can imagine my delight when it was announced that the 1989 cult 'Kickboxer' was getting the reboot treatment, but even more buzzing when news broke that its original main star Jean-Claude Van Damme was also appearing, but not in a cameo, but as a fully fledged starring role.
27 years has surely flown over fast. A lot has changed since Van Damme was the hottest action star in the planet (well apart from Arnie & Sly). Van Damme was already becoming pretty established when Kickboxer dropped. Bloodsport & No Retreat No Surrender had announced him to the world commercially, but 89 was a killer year for him with Kickboxer and the underrated Cyborg. Kickboxer is what he's best known for as it showcased all of his talents and fighting skills. Van Damme's acting has always been a lot more cheesy than other action stars of the time, but always very watchable if very limited. So too is his fighting skills. Van Damme is extremely singular in his choreography and most of his on screen fights are similar, more dance-like. You know the ones I mean...the splits and his famous kick. Not that it bothers me, it always makes me smile watching him perform, he's a fuckin legend!
Fast forward almost 3 decades and Van Damme is still Van Damme and quite rightly so, but decent, realistic action choreography has changed a lot. Don't get me wrong I absolutely love nostalgic martial arts flicks from back in the day and I'll fully admit there's a lot of total shite modern day action films that rely heavily on CGI and done to death wire-work. I mean gorgeous choreography that not only displays brutality but pure beauty. Movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 and my personal all time favourites The Raid & The Raid 2 by the greatest action director alive today Gareth Evans. Lower down the pecking order movies such as Taken and The Transporter have upped the level of choreography also in commercial cinema, especially in leading actors. Jason Statham has become this decades most popular action star which just shows the improvement in action choreography. On paper a Kickboxer reboot should work as your taking a simplistic formula from the 80's and given the tools we have now plus Van Damme, it's a wonderful concoction that surely can't fail?
.....oh dear ladies & gents, I'm sorry to inform you, but Kickboxer 2016 doesn't just fail to deliver, but it should apologise to everyone unlucky enough to watch it as this is utter, utter bollocks.
In what is virtually a frame for frame remake but with worse actors than the original (yeah I know, the original film had horrendous performances), but that can be forgiven because cheese is cool, Kickboxer 2016 doesn't spring any surprises or anything new and truly believes because it doesn't begin chronologically it's being smart, I can safely say it's fucking NOT. Because nothing new happens there's no real point me explaining plot details as you'll all know how the original movie played out. The only difference here is that Van Damme is no longer the youthful Kurt Sloane from the original, (Alain Moussi) now takes that mantle, he's now donning the role of Sloane's mysterious trainer. The other difference is obviously the famous villain (Tong Po) who was previously played amazingly by the great Michel Qissi, now is taken over by man-mountain Dave Bautista.
Everything plays out the same at a horrible pace and builds no empathy for the characters, especially Kurt's brother Eric who is killed during a fight with Tong Po. What should have been emotional and led the character of Kurt to have have purpose and a thirst for revenge, just comes across as weak and portrays Eric as a greedy fucker and more so a rubbish martial artist. We get a very poor training montage that tries to reminisce back to the original but with added hip-hop music.
There's the typical love interest between Kurt and a female Police agent who can't act to save her life, but is easy on the eye. There's truly horrendous dialogue in every single scene. There's dialogue that just doesn't make sense, oh and Bautista (who's the only single person apart from Van Damme that's worth the watch) virtually has zero dialogue?
Yep, Bautista is pretty decent. He looks the part, can clearly act, but with material like this he should thank his lucky stars he's still got Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 to fall back on. Van Damme tries his best, but once again with horrendous material there's not much he can do.
The co-stars consist of a bunch of UFC fighters that hardcore fans will get a hard-on over, but it's just not good enough. Watching George St. Pierre try to act like a drunk is just painful. A thespian he clearly isn't. Ex female champion Gina Cavaro also pops up, but doesn't even fight? She was amazing in her debut feature Haywire, but since then has started in some pitiful movies. If I were her I'd pick up the telephone immediately and fire your agent. See if your gona put all these fighters on screen, make sure you play to their strengths, but the fight scenes are so poorly executed and slow they almost put me to sleep. Not once did anything look like it hurt. The director clearly got off on using slo-mo during every single fucking fight sequence? There's even a pathetic action sequence incorporating elephants that probably when at the initial writing stage must have sounded great, but is really awful and so unnecessary.
Apparently this reboot is the first of a new trilogy with Kickboxer: Retaliation dropping 2017. That means ladies & gents there's another two of these atrocities coming! The production team have decided the best way forward is to flood this next batch of films with familiar faces from the world of sport and in particular MMA because it's hot right now and basically paper over the cracks of shoddy filmmaking. Kickboxer: Retaliation is bringing the acting talents of Kenny Florian, Roy Nelson and Mike Tyson to the ring....WOW! The sad thing is they're hoping fans of MMA and sport will buy into this and you know what they'll probably succeed? The sad thing for me was that I was actually looking forward to this....shame on me.
I don't normally give ratings, but if I did I'd give Kickboxer: Vengeance two stars. Mainly for Bautista looking badass and being totally underused and the other for Jean Claude's funky hat! Available on DVD and Blu-ray on Nov. 8, 2016.
Review by- Stephen (Folklore) Harper