Kickboxer: Retaliation – a year after killing Tong Po to avenge his brother’s murder, MMA champ Kurt Sloan is kidnapped and forced to fight a new underground deathmatch champion. After a dubious opening Bond-lite salsa dance / train fight, the film is rigidly punctuated with some outstanding action set pieces. The choreography in a couple of the fights is jaw-dropping, especially the single takes at the jailhouse (3 mins uninterrupted), and riverside rumble (inexplicably set to the Surfaris ‘Wipe Out’). The ‘Final Boss’ fight against Game of Thrones’ “The Mountain” is 20 minutes of bone-crunching savagery that reaches previously uncharted levels of OMGWTF twists and turns. Outside of the fights however, the film doesn’t feel particularly well put-together: the direction is weaker than the previous outing – jerking between various scenes, locations, filler Thailand Tourist Board type shots… and there’s no attempt at updating anything about the generic 80s action plot. Cast-wise, almost everything else is in the shadow of Moussi’s physicality and technical ability: Bjornsson is an intimidating force (when he’s not strumming an acoustic guitar for no reason!); JCVD’s charisma brightens up his scenes; Tyson hams it up and gets some laughs; but disappointingly, Christopher Lambert has nothing more to do than growl some threats and react to big hits (away from everyone else). What it lacks in originality and direction, Kickboxer Retaliation makes up by leaving no stuntman unscathed and no prop unsmashed; the fight scenes are top-drawer, and it makes you wish that Alain Moussi would get the chance to go toe to toe with the likes of Iko Uwais and Donnie Yen.
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.
The Expendables 2: when they’re ambushed during a simple job the team have to avenge a fallen comrade… and shoot the crap out of anything that gets in their way. First off, the costume department deserve a medal; these guys are going in to action with cardigans, wooly jumpers, trench coats, French berets, designer jeans, cashmere scarves – they’re the most metrosexual mercenaries on the planet! The action is a whole other level of ace… blood, guts, explosions, limbs flying, heads exploding, bullet-riddled bodies dropping everywhere – only downside is that everything from the weapons to entire set pieces feel like copy/paste jobs from recent Call of Duty games. The majority of the runtime is like eating a cheese sandwich, made with cheesy bread whilst drinking mozzarella brine, but in a totally knowing, tongue in cheek fashion – like Willis and Arnie mocking each others characters and catchphrases. Lundgren should be singled out as a great sport, being the butt of almost every scene & joke. My only
real petty concern is that there’s only one big/famous baddie – and considering some of the iconic action villains over the years, it’s the only thing they could really have done with upping. Having a real director makes such a big difference – everything is improved, although the comic timing is so far out that it’s embarrassing to watch (but does help add to the cheese-effect). The Expendables is essentially the male equivalent of Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve – an ensemble of big names that puts an entire demographic’s bums on seats, and where everything else is secondary. In saying that, there’s still something inherently satisfying and watchable about seeing Willis / Arnie / Norris and co firing big guns at things. Expendables 2 is a highly enjoyable Action/Comedy romp – it’ll be difficult to top.
Kickboxer: potential lawyer takes up fighting to avenge his once cocky, now disabled, brother in a Muay Thai match against a monster. From the outset (Van Damme and his brother on a boat looking like child-molesting sex tourists) you know this is vintage 80s. The songs – and dance scene – are also criminally cheesy, yet perversely enjoyable. All bad guys passed their ‘villain 101’ course: stab dog, rape girl, fight dirty, kidnap a cripple… and no martial arts film would be complete without a wise Confucius. Why not chuck a jive-talkin’ black guy who’s addicted to pussy in the mix too? Overall, the acting’s pretty bad, and the films nothing more than an excuse for Van Damme to flaunt his skills, accent, muscles, splits and gnarly dancing. You know what you’re getting with this one and although it’s not packed with fights/action you could do a lot worse with 90 minutes. Vintage Van Damme.
JCVD: shows two perspectives of a post office robbery that Van Damme’s involved in… but this isn’t like any other film he’s done. He basically plays himself, in real life. To keep it realistic there’s not much action or explosives outside the opening scene – which is a self-referencing parody – and the DVD box. It’s pretty much an anti ‘Van Damme’ film; foreign language, with subtitles and genuinely clever & complex subject matter. To confuse us further it comments on his life, fame, the media, drug use, his filmography, similar actors and the movie business in general. Above this, Van Damme puts on a sensational performance, peaking with a 6-minute long single-cut soliloquy with his heart on his sleeve – which you absolutely do not expect. Above that it’s shot and executed brilliantly, with stylish visuals and editing. People that don’t ‘get it’ will think it’s just a crap action film, which is no doubt the reason it went straight to DVD. It’s self-indulgent, but it totally blew me away is it was less than 1% what I expected. Damme good viewing!! (Sorry)