“Kickboxer: Retaliation” Movie Review


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     Director Dimitri Logothetis’ “Kickboxer: Retaliation” continues the new story set forth by its predecessor, “Kickboxer: Vengeance”, in a simple easy to digest manner, choosing to follow the familiar path of taking our hero through a video game like whirlwind of savage opponents, as he moves closer to the behemoth awaiting him at the end.  In other words, it’s like a modern retelling of the video game “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out”, inserting Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) as the challenger.  And get this, Mike Tyson is actually in the film! Joining him are an endless lineup of UFC and notable MMA stars from the past and present including Frankie Edgar, Renato Sobral, Wanderlei Silva, Roy Nelson, Fabricio Werdum, Mauricio Rua, and of course, Jean-Claude Van Damme reprising his role from the previous film as Master Durand.  Toss in a blast from the past mobster role for Christopher Lambert and it seems you have the makings of a martial arts epic for the ages.

     Well sort of.  For those of us old enough to have appreciated 1989’s Van Damme starrer “Kickboxer” in which the fledgling action star took down the vicious Tong Po, the series has taken on a kind of classic feel in that these reboots seem to be required viewing for some unexplainable reason.  The newer significantly amped up versions, which feature Van Damme in the role of the trainer for the character, Kurt Sloane, who he played in the original, take full advantage of the now mainstream sport of Mixed Martial Arts in order to allow the series to gain a commercial appeal not available back in the 1980s.  Still though, the filmmakers, for the most part, stay away from available CGI techniques and present the action as full on choreographed martial arts, a welcome aspect that keeps the general spirit of those coveted 80s action flicks alive.

     “Kickboxer: Retaliation” isn’t a particularly well acted film, and you shouldn’t expect it to be.  The script, written by director Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath, spares us the exposition and simply moves from fight sequence to fight sequence, with an occasional one liner thrown in for good measure.  With this sort of thing having already been done in countless films over the decades, Logothetis does a fine job injecting originality through lighting, set design, editing, and style in order to give these set pieces something standing out as being different.  Nearly every low light scene is lit with the yellows, greens, and oranges that are commonplace in Michael Bay films, giving the proceedings plenty of color and avoiding anything that looks drab or gritty.  There are several sequences staged during the daytime (one of which has Sloane moving throughout scaffolding outside a building, dispatching would be challengers in blood-soaked slow motion as he moves from the upper floors to the ground level.), something action films of all kinds seemingly avoid in order to hide what they don’t want you to see.  But here, the stunt players seem to take the actual shots being delivered and manage to fall in all sorts of painful to watch ways.

     There actually is a story to follow believe it or not.  Sloane, who had beaten and killed Tong Po in the previous entry, now makes his living as an MMA fighter in the U.S., enjoying an undefeated record in the process.  That is until he is kidnapped and brought back to Thailand, supposedly under the guise of facing charges for Tong Po’s murder.  Turns out that’s not the case at all, as a seedy mobster named Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert) intends on having Sloane fight his new champion, a 6’8 400 pound monster called Mongkut played by “Game of Thrones” star Hafpor Julius Bjornsson.  Moore’s terms are simple.  Fight Mongut or be imprisoned for the rest of your life.  At first, Sloane chooses prison, but the story, which stretches to nearly two hours, has plenty for Sloane to deal with before he ultimately agrees to the fight.  The kind of stuff you will predict, given the film utilizes the very same martial arts and revenge flick tropes that have been used for years.

     All of this can be engaging at times.  The chemically enhanced Mongkut is certainly as powerful an adversary as they could’ve come up with.  You might be happy with the film’s endless array of homages to everything from “Enter the Dragon” and the famous house of mirrors fight sequence, to the use of an adrenaline shot in much the same way we saw in “Pulp Fiction”.  Iron Mike is hilarious in his brief role as a mentor and trainer for Sloane during his prison stint, and Van Damme manages a number of worthwhile moments himself as Sloane’s now jailed kickboxing master.  At no time will you feel like Logothetis and his team phoned it in, as each sequence has some aspect about it indicating the effort and craft that went into each and every shot.  As a martial arts film, “Kickboxer: Retaliation” delivers the kind of action and mayhem that was once commonplace and has somehow gone away in the digital age.  These guys are here to get down and dirty, and there’s something you have to respect about that.  GRADE: B-