January 20, 2018
When it comes to a fighting movie, whether it be a boxing or martial arts, the viewers already know the end result: The protagonist comes out victorious by defeating the villain. Moreover, it usually happens in dramatic fashion, where the protagonist suffers a major beat-down by the villain initially and, at the end, he miraculous recovers his strength to win the fight. It’s a premise that is not a secret and has been witnessed in a plethora of fighting movies. In Kickboxer: Retaliation, the second installment of a possible trilogy, that script remains true.
However, it is up to the director to present a storyline that creates interest, leading up to a climatic fight and happy ending. Unfortunately, Kickboxer: Retaliation does not have an interesting storyline. The script, in fact, presents an unoriginal storyline that has been told many times, simply executed with different actors. Unlike the first installment, Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016), which was written by Dimitri Logothetis and directed by John Stockwell, Logothetis plays the role of both director and writer in the sequel; Jim McGrath serves as co-writer. Still, the film is not very good, despite being better than the first.
Alain Moussi (Kurt Sloane) reprises his role as the protagonist from the previous film. His new formidable enemy – Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson as Mongkut – represents a colossal of a beast who stands 6 feet and 9 inches tall and weighs over 400 pounds. Jean-Claude Van Damme (Master Durand), Sara Malakul Lane (Liu), and Sam Medina (Crawford) return to reprise their respective roles. Notable newcomers include boxing legend Mike Tyson, Christopher Lambert, former soccer star Ronaldinho, and MMA fighter Roy Nelson.
The film starts off with an interesting pre-induction scene, where Kurt and his wife Liu are salaciously slow dancing inside of a moving train. The mood represents a festive atmosphere until a man enters the train, walks behind Kurt, and points a gun behind his head. Chaos ensues. Chud (Wanderlei Silva) and a few other fighters enter, swinging around sharply large ax-like weapons, and Kurt defeats them. During this chaos, Liu is kidnapped and taken out of the train. A woman wearing dark-shade eyeglasses enter the train, and she too is defeated but not out. Kurt goes outside of the train to find his wife, and climbs atop the moving train, where it is heavily pouring in the night, and meets the woman again with another foe. He fights them both and defeats them. Thereafter, his leg gets caught up in a chain, causing him to fall off the moving train and into a body of water. (This scene, which happens to be a dream, is pretty good.)
The film officially begins by showing flashbacks of Van Damme’s classic 1989 Kickboxer movie, along with the reboot Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016). The scene then transitions into an octagon ring in Las Vegas, where Kurt is fighting an opponent he defeats via an armbar submission. Thereafter, two U.S. Marshalls are waiting to arrest Kurt for the murder of Tong Po (Dave Bautista) in Thailand, his foe in the prior installment. Their weapon of choice to bring him in is none other than a Taser, a very familiar scene from the past. While one Marshall shows Kurt his badge to confirm his identity, the other Marshall sneaks behind Kurt and Tasers him.
This scene resembles Van Damme’s 1988 classic Bloodsport movie, where two U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) officers, Rawlins (Forest Whittaker) and Helmer (Norman Burton), are ordered to track him down in Hong Kong and bring him back to the U.S. When Rawlins and Helmer locate Frank Dux inside of a hotel, they pull out Tasers to subdue him, but he escapes.
The unoriginal scene can not be ignored, not to mention the strange dialogue and poor acting skills – two issues that seem to be prevalent throughout.
The subsequent scene shows Kurt in shackles on the ground, getting punched by Crawford, while looking up at fight promoter Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert). As Thomas speaks, Crawford takes joy in beating Kurt into submission. For the killing of his former foe, Tong Po, Thomas proposes that he must defend his title by fighting again; Kurt replies, “Never again!” While Crawford continues with his onslaught, Kurt, in handcuffs, states: “Touch me again and I’ll break your nose.” He keeps his words by head-butting Crawford. The dialogue is so ridiculously silly, it’s funny, even Thomas laughs.
Thomas then takes Kurt, in shackles, to meet his opponent – and Mongkut steps out shirtless. Not only does Mongkut embody an unhuman-like frame, he looks dangerously scary; the man is a massive of a mammoth. More frightening, his chemist provides him performance-enhancement drugs via needle injections to improve his strength. According to his chemist, he’s “a superior human specimen.” It’s hard to deny such statement, for he represents a tank.
To sweeten up the proposal, which happens to be an ultimatum, Thomas entices Kurt with a $1 million (tax-free) prize to regain his freedom by accepting the fight, or he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
During his prison stay, he gets into his first fight with fellow inmates. Fellow inmate Roy Nelson (appearing as himself) wants to help, but Kurt says “I got this” and telegraphs the injuries that will be inflicted upon his foes and defeats them. The fight continues as more challengers come forth and each man is dispatched accordingly, in a fight sequence that renders no excitement. For his disruption, Kurt is punished by being violently lashed on a wood apparatus that forms the letter X, where he screams with each whip as blood drips from his body.
Thomas wants an answer from Kurt and convinces him to take the fight to no avail. However, Kurt has a question for Thomas via an insipid one-liner: “When you were a kid, did you get your ass kicked much?”
Kurt finds himself in trouble once more after stealing a prison guard’s cellphone. Again, he is tied against the X-shaped, wood, apparatus and violently lashed.
As expected, he gets into another fight with an inmate named Nunchaku Man (James P. Bennett), who wields a nunchuks and defeats him quickly. During this fight, he comes across Briggs (Mike Tyson), who angrily tells Kurt the following: “You’re interrupting my meditation.” Kurt responds with the following line: “Meditation, really; does that help you stay calm?” This dialogue is truly inane but funny; it would be criminal for viewers not to laugh. Nonetheless, Briggs punches him in the stomach and they begin to fight. This fight scene is pretty interesting and lasts about two minutes, where Briggs executes a flurry of hard punches, leaving Kurt stunned. The fight comes to an end with a super uppercut which causes Kurt to go into a slow-motion backflip effect in defeat.
For a third time, Kurt finds himself tied up – with Briggs – against the X-shaped apparatus, where he screams in agonizing pain as the lashes open deep wounds and bloody his back. Briggs, on the other hand, takes his violent lashing without making a sound. (They ultimately become friends.)
Eventually, Kurt meets his long-time trainer Master Durand (Van Damme) inside of the prison, and shockingly finds out that he is blind at the hands of Thomas for taking part in the death of Tong Po.
After two weeks in jail and still unwilling to fight Mongkut, Thomas goes to the extreme and orders his underlings to kidnap his wife to convincingly infuriate Kurt to fight. To some degree, this tactic resembles the same plotline that happens in the original Kickboxer (1989), where wheelchair-bound Eric Sloan is kidnapped with the intent to blackmail Kurt into losing the fight against Tong Po. Unsurprisingly, Kurt agrees to the fight and begins to train. His trainers are both Master Durand and Briggs, the former obviously serves as his primary trainer. Other inmates within the prison also help him prepare for his fight such as Roy Nelson, Ronaldo (Ronaldinho), Fabricio Werdum (appearing as himself), etc.
When Durand and Briggs come together to converse about Kurt’s training, it renders a dialogue that is hilariously stupid-funny and must be detailed herein in its entirety. While Briggs trains Kurt, Durand shows up and prompts a dialogue by asking:
“How’s the training going?”
“He’s getting it,” Briggs responds with a smile on his face.
“Oh yeah? He’ll never get it,” Durand replies.
“Oh, he got it in him,” Briggs says with confidence.
“Listen, Briggs! I know his skills and he may never be that good,” Durand exclaims fervently.
“He’ll beat Mongkut; guaranteed,” Briggs responds with passion.
“You mention Mongkut one more time, I’ll smash your big face,” Durand says with anger.
Thereafter, the two get into fighting position and begin to fight, a very brief (and harmless) fight sequence that Kurt stops by getting between them. (The platitude of their back-and-forth dialogue will definitely be remembered.)
With permission from fight promoter Thomas, Kurt takes his training outside of the prison walls, while being shadowed by one of Thomas’ underlings. Durand and Gamon (Jessica Jann) accompany Kurt to an underground fighting venue, where Joseph King (Steven Spadling) sets up an impromptu fight against his best fighter named Moss (Rico Verhoeven). Expectedly, Kurt wins convincingly in another uninteresting fight scene.
After the fight, with a predetermined plan, Gamon causes a commotion which allows Kurt to escape with one of Thomas’ men, beating him into submission to reveal his wife’s whereabouts. When he reaches the proximity of where she is being captive, Kurt fights his way through enemies that are trying to prevent him from reaching the location. This choreographed fight scene represents absurdity at its finest, and musically supported with The Surfaris’ 1963 song named “Wipe Out.” To select this song for a fighting scene, out of all the songs in the world, is incomprehensible.
When Kurt finally reaches the destination, where his wife is located, he meets Thomas along with two half-naked women (with fluorescent back tattoos) who challenge him to a fight. The women run into a gloomy room filled with mirrors, where Kurt follows but gets confused because of the illusion of the mirrors.
This fight scene mirrors that of Bruce Lee’s 1973 movie Enter the Dragon, where Lee chases Han (Shih Kien) into a room occupied with many mirrors, serving as an illusion to confuse Lee. However, Lee breaks the mirrors to find Han and kills him. In Kickboxer: Retaliation, the same thing occurs: Kurt looks confused with the various mirrors; therefore, he breaks a few mirrors to locate the women and defeats them.
At the end, Kurt and Mongkut finally meet in a fighting scene that runs over twenty minutes. In Bloodsport, Bolo (Chong Li) threatens Frank Dux with the following words: “You break my record; now I break you like I break your friend.” In the original Kickboxer, Tong Po taunts and insults Kurt by naming his girlfriend after raping her: “You bleed like Mylee; Mylee good fuck.” Likewise, in Kickboxer: Retaliation, Mongkut threatens Kurt and brings up wishes to satisfy his wife sexually: “When I kill you, I’m gonna keep that sweet ass warm at night.”
During this final battle, there are some good scenes and other ridiculous scenes (especially Kurt’s revival via a needle); nonetheless, the fight represents a satisfactory ending to a film that runs longer than it should have.
As a whole, Kickboxer: Retaliation represents an unexciting film – despite a few occasional good scenes. In fact, the film provides sequences of other films which are told and visually shown in a different manner; the originality that every film deserves is simply absent. The Taser scene in the opening, the constant kidnapping plot from prior movies, and the usage of Lee’s mirror illusion from Enter the Dragon are clear examples. The acting and dialogue are problematic throughout the film. Some scenes are bad while others are awfully terrible.
Alain Moussi (as the protagonist Kurt) is a great fighter, but he does not have enough charisma and acting prowess to carry a film. He’s not believable. There is no other way of characterizing his performance; it’s honestly boring and brings no excitement. Van Damme is not an excellent actor, but when he plays a protagonist, his charisma shines; his believable personality carries the role he is assigned to portray and makes it interesting, which is why many of his films in the 80s and 90s are classics.
In regard to the script, written by director Logothetis and co-writer Jim McGrath, it fails badly and represents a lackluster manuscript filled with an assemblage of humdrum wordplay that serves as a fodder for laughter. Moreover, the editing of the film does not present a bright spot, because it seems to be all over the place. The transitions from scene to scene present a clumsiness of unorganized disorder. With the exception of the pre-induction dancing scene, which provides a musical that properly supports the slow dancing, the music selection (or lack thereof) does not complement the fight scenes whatsoever.
As stated in the forefront, the protagonist of a fighting movie usually comes out victorious at the end, a statement that renders truth in this film. As a result, a robust and interesting script must be executed to help the characters grow (and showcase some charisma) as they move along with their respective roles. Moreover, a robust script keeps viewers entertained and connect with the protagonist through the character he portrays. Unfortunately, writer and director Dimitri Logothetis’ Kickboxer: Retaliation fails to capture any spark of interest, for the script represents an unoriginal mess and the main character is vapidly bland at best. (This film releases in U.S. theaters on Friday, January 26, 2018.)
On a scale of A+ to F, Kickboxer: Retaliation receives a D+ grade.