Kickboxer Vengeance review: Jean Claude Van Damme returns to one of his classics with Alain Moussi taking the lead.
Kickboxer Vengeance review by Andrew Gaudion.
1989’s Kickboxer was the film that helped establish Jean-Claude Van Damme’s star persona. That and Bloodsport demonstrated Van Damme’s athletic charisma if not much else. Built very much like an ultra-violent Rocky set in Thailand, Kickboxer has enjoyed something of a cult following in the 27 years since its release. It is easy to see why, it has that wonderfully tone-deaf balance between violent action and ridiculous cheese that only the 80’s could muster (I am sure we all fondly remember a certain dance number). As has been the case with many 80’s sport action movies, a franchise was quickly formed around it, but without Van Damme.
Now, in 2016, Van Damme has been lured back to the franchise he helped create (probably fancied another holiday in Thailand, it’s been awhile), with this reboot that seeks to bring the eponymous kickboxer, Kurt Sloane (now played by stuntman Alain Moussi), back to audiences who probably didn’t know his name in the original anyway. Slightly tweaking the premise of the original, this reboot once again sees Kurt out for revenge when his brother faces a defeat at the hands of deadly Mui Thai artist Tong Po (Dave Bautista, complete with long pony tail, a penchant for kicking concrete stacks and everything). In order to avenge his brother, Kurt seeks the guidance of his brother’s old mentor, the great fighter Durand (Van Damme). So it’s Kickboxer, but not quite as appealing.
Directed by John Stockwell (the man behind such oft-forgotten noughties movies Into the Blue and Blue Crush, as well as a curio by the name of Kid Cannabis), the first thing that is apparent about this Kickboxer reboot is how cheap it looks. The cinematography, while often displaying the beautiful scenery of Thailand, looks more fitting for a straight-to-DVD flick than it does a film that is receiving a (albeit limited) cinema release.
Watch an exclusive Kickboxer Vengeance clip
The sense of cheapness fails to every truly leave the film, as Moussi proves somewhat limited in the acting stakes, even failing to truly impress within the numerous fights his Sloane ends up in. The fight’s themselves do occasionally pack a punch, thanks to the cast being rounded out by professional martial artists and fighters, from Bautista to Georges St-Pierre to Gina Carano (even if she doesn’t really get her hands dirty). Van Damme’s presence allows the muscles from Brussels to have fun and to show off what he is still capable of, but the mentor/mentee relationship never truly convinces due to the lack of chemistry between himself and Moussi.
Where this film truly fails though is in its sense of tone. While the original was something of a mess tonally, jumping back and forth between gangster flick to crowd-pleasing martial arts movie, it did so with a glint in its eye, aware of its own ridiculousness, right from the high waisted trousers up to the dungaree vest. This reboot takes itself far too seriously, and ends up being more of a dour experience, lacking in anything all that fun or memorable.
Two more sequels are planned in this reboot trilogy, meaning there’s still life in the old Kickboxer franchise yet, even if you don’t want there to be. The most fun this film has is where it directly riffs on a cult classic moment from the original over the course of its end credits. As those credits begin to roll, you’ll ask yourself, ‘why didn’t I just watch Kickboxer again?’ That in itself may be the greatest success of this film it makes you want to roundhouse kick like it’s 1989. You can find it on Netflix.
Kickboxer Vengeance review by Andrew Gaudion, September 2016.
Kickboxer Vengeance will be released in select UK cinemas and on-demand from Friday 30th September, 2016.