“Kickboxer: Vengeance” Movie Review


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     If you grew up in the 1980s and watched a lot of martial arts movies like I did, than you probably thought highly of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 1989 film “Kickboxer”, along with his other late 80s / early 90s films like “Bloodsport” and “Double Impact”.  I, for one, couldn’t get enough.  Especially considering you had one these films coming out several times a year between JCVD’s stuff and his primary martial arts action film competitor Steven Seagal.  Fast forwarding to present day, martial arts films have progressed to another level entirely, and that’s mainly where director John Stockwell’s remake of “Kickboxer”, “Kickboxer: Vengeance” falters, as it fails to measure up to the comparable films today like “The Raid” and “The Raid: Redemption”.

     Working from a script by Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath, Stockwell generally stays in line with the original, but changes the gender and nationality of several of the key players.  As a champion kick boxer in the U.S., Eric Sloane (Darren Shahlavi) is approached by a sleazy promoter, played by Gina Carano in a curious bit of casting, who offers a large sum of money to fight an underground champion in Thailand.  Though his brother, Kurt (Alain Moussi), believes it is a bad idea, Eric feels he’s the best fighter in the world and makes the trek alone to Thailand.  On the eve of his fight with the champion, Kurt receives a plane ticket from his brother and a letter asking him to be there for the fight.  The setting Kurt walks into is not unlike the one you remember from the original’s ending, as the feared Tong Po (Dave Bautista) ends the fight against Eric by killing him and leaving him for dead on the mat.

     With the addition of the word “Vengeance” to the title, you already know where the story goes next, but instead of Kurt traveling deep into the jungles of Thailand to find Xian Chow in an attempt to be trained by the area’s greatest Muay Thai teacher, he’s dropped off by the cops with a person who is supposed to look after him, but also just happens to be a Muay Thai teacher as well.  Note to the police in the movie:  If you don’t want Kurt training for a revenge fight against Tong Po, don’t leave him with Master Durand (Van Damme), who after a short ego fight in the rain decides to train the young Sloane for his big match.  The obligatory training montages that follow oddly include sex scenes intercut with the fight training.  I’m not sure what the creative vision was with that decision.

     As a remake, you know just minutes into this exactly where it’s gonna go, and Stockwell doesn’t have any surprises as far as the story goes, nor does the martial arts choreography measure up in any way to the aforementioned “The Raid” or anything guys like Jet Li or Tony Jaa are doing today.  In fact, the type of fighting depicted is exactly like the choreography in the original, which doesn’t do the film any favors in setting it apart.  That’s a shame too because what’s fun about “Kickboxer: Vengeance” is the casting of several notable MMA fighters who appear at certain points in the film as fodder for Durand and his star pupil.  Sadly, the skills fighters like Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum display in the UFC are shortchanged in favor of a bland kickboxing style comprised primarily of single punches, elbows, knees, and kicks that seems to be the preferred method of every fighter in the film.

     It sounds like Stockwell had his hands full trying to unearth some semblance of an acting performance from Georges St-Pierre, who is fine when his character, Kavi, is used by Durand as a sparring partner for Kurt, but is painful to watch when he is asked to spew out a line or two.  One exception to this was a line any knowledgable MMA fan will remember when he tells Kurt “I was not impressed by your performance”, but that line, as well as many others, had me laughing at times I don’t believe I was supposed to be.  There are other problems as well, which seem to be prominent in low budget exercises like this one, such as Eric Sloane suffering all sorts of nasty cuts and gashes on his face after the fight, but the next day in the morgue as Kurt says goodbye to him, the cuts are miraculously healed.  Adding to the miscues, a sword fight in the third act looks like a college level stage combat demonstration, rather than the brutal scene it tries to depict.

     There is no doubt Dave Bautista is an intimidating man and his casting as Tong Po would appear spot on, that is until you see the movie.  His striking skills appear rudimentary at best and he in no way comes off as a mysterious larger than life figure the way Michel Qissi did in the original film.  Perhaps this is because Qissi rarely spoke or maybe it’s because he actually looked like a Muay Thai fighter, but I’ll tell you, the scene in the first film where Van Damme walks by Tong Po’s locker room and gets a glimpse of the massive fighter firing shin kicks at a concrete pillar is in no way matched by anything the filmmakers have come up with for Bautista to do.  In fact, the only thing that saves the final fight is the laughter that comes from GSP being the one to start the “White Warrior” chant, which for some reason I find hilarious.

     Adding to the comedy is Van Damme himself, who participates in a wide array of fight and training sequences with a pair of sunglasses on that must be glued to his face somehow.  After playing the lead in the original, his Durand character puts Kurt though the motions of training, but never sets himself apart in any way.  Nor do we learn of his origins or why he trains fighters in the first place.  In the final fight, he’s a mere cornerman who motivates Kurt with cliched dialogue and gives him water between rounds, nothing more.  All of this makes you wonder what the filmmakers have in store for the next chapter, as “Kickboxer: Vengeance” is the first in a planned trilogy with “Kickboxer: Retaliation” due out next year and is set to feature the likes of Mike Tyson, Kenny Florian, and Roy Nelson.  With the remake out of the way, hopefully the filmmakers will come up with something far more interesting since they won’t be restrained by previous material.  GRADE: D