Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Movie Review: "Kickboxer: Vengeance" (2016)

Director: John Stockwell
Year: 2016
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

After his brother is killed in an underground Muay Thai fight, Kurt Sloane swears to get revenge on Tong Po, the fighter that killed him.

"Kickboxer Vengeance" is a remake of the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts action flick "Kickboxer." It is directed by John Stockwell, who is known for the films "Blue Crush" and "Into the Blue." It stars Alain Moussi, who takes on the role of Kurt Sloane that was once filled by Jean-Claude Van Damme. And speaking of JCVD, he is also in the film, only this time, he plays Master Durand, the man who trains Kurt for his eventual showdown with Tong Po, now played by former WWE star-turned-actor Dave Bautista. The movie also boasts a bevy of current and former MMA fighters, including former UFC champions Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum, and Georges St. Pierre, as well as former Strikeforce title challenger Gina Carano.

BigJ grew up watching the original "Kickboxer" and has seen it dozens of times over the years. That movie is a fun and simple 80's martial arts action flick. When we heard about a brand new "Kickboxer" movie, we thought we should give it a watch just to see what it was all about. We didn't know if it was a sequel or a remake going into it, but now, we know it's definitely a remake. This re-imagining of a once kitschy and popular (to some) action drama plays out the standard revenge narrative as Kurt want revenge on Tong Po for killing his brother. In many ways, "Kickboxer Vengeance" is that same simple action flick, and in other ways, it adds several unnecessary complications to the plot. There is an entire subplot about a criminal investigation delving deep into the goings on of the underground muay thai circuit that is utterly pointless. Everything surrounding these investigations makes no sense from the start, especially considering the lead detective on the case gives up her entire life's work once she has one conversation with and subsequently cozies up to Kurt Sloane. The filmmaker also fails to develop Tong Po as a despised antagonist, something the original movie manages to do very well. In fact, here, Stockwell and co. have made Tong Po feel more like an honorable warrior with a bit of a mean streak who is a pawn in the underground muay thai circuit. Kurt Sloane is the one who starts to come off as the blood thirsty psycho. This small change reminds us of something that happened in the "Ben-Hur" remake, of all things. Alterations to the plot can be great and wildly successful for a remake, or, it can denigrate the integrity of the original source material. We've made it clear what we think "Kickboxer: Vengeance" does, which is disappointing.

We love MMA and the UFC, but a lot of the fighters who have tried their hand at acting are goofy and unnatural in front of the camera. We've seen this time and time again in the bit parts Ronda Rousey has played in movies like "Furious 7," "The Expendables 3," and the "Entourage" movie. Part of this is simply because they are not really actors, they are fighters, typically hired to showcase those skills wherever necessary. A few of the fighting scenes in this re-imagining are alright in terms of their choreography, but overall, the movie is missing a hefty dose of panache. We would imagine it's a hell of a lot different to fight in a real MMA bout, where someone's skill set is put to a natural, necessary use, versus a fake recreation, where those moves are slowly and safely implemented for the big screen and safety of everyone involved. Fighting and acting are two entirely separate ball games, so while the likes of Cain Velasquez, Georges St. Pierre, and Fabricio Werdum are all excellent fighters, their acting suffers because it's painfully strange and artificial...then again, we wouldn't call any of the acting in this movie "good," even by veteran actor Van Damme. Also, we don't know what those behind the scenes did to JCVD's voice, but it was either dubbed or digitally altered, and obviously so.

One of the biggest problems with "Kickboxer: Vengeance" is it isn't fun or campy like the original. We get the need to distance itself from the cult classic original, but this version takes itself far too seriously, and it hurts the final product because of it. Combine this with the aforementioned bad acting, unneeded changes to the story, and odd fight choreography, and you've got a recipe for disaster. This movie is a total letdown.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 3/10
IMDB's Rating: 4.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 43%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

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