It was no surprise to me to learn that Dimitri Logothetis was also the director of Kickboxer: Retaliation...
...His recent take on the sci-fi genre written with Jim McGrath, Jiu Jitsu, carries the same over-the-top martial arts ballet that made Retaliation so much fun for me.
Jiu Jitsu opens with a wild chase through the jungle as a yet unknown man runs away from an invisible attacker shooting ninja stars in an attempt to stop him. Our hero needn’t worry, though, as his unseen foe has the aim of a two-year-old trying to piss into a toilet for the first time. How can an advanced-raced alien, with the technology to travel space and time, be such a lousy shot? I asked myself this throughout the entirety of the movie. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t get answered.
Our alien does manage to sink a few ninja stars into the back of our running man, however. Screaming in pain over the terrible CGI sharp-thingies, the man jumps off a cliff and into the ocean in a last-ditch effort to escape. Free-falling, he slams into the water, knocking his head against a rock, where he eventually floats unconscious into the path of Wylie’s (Nicolas Cage) fishing boat. After patching him up, the rescuers, who know more than they let on, bring the injured man to the local military branch where we learn our hero is suffering from amnesia; much to his own surprise he soon opens a can of martial-art whoop-ass (cue bad CGI blood). Fast-forward about thirty minutes or so, and we learn the stranger’s name is Jake, played by Alain Moussi (fight coordinator on Kickboxer: Retaliation), and that he’s part of some long tradition of fighters trained in the art of jiu-jitsu to fight an alien that comes every six years in search of a brawl with a worthy opponent.
Quick aside: Jake spends an uncomfortable amount of time admiring his toned muscles and flexing while tied up and questioned by the military scientist, Myra (Marie Avgeropoulos).
What follows is a low-brow take on Predator, some sweet swordplay, and a little (almost) fun first-person fighting akin to 2015’s Hardcore Henry—though more like Doom (2005). Kinda fun if you’re a fan of motion sickness anyway.
The cast here is spectacular. Nic Cage plays the sword-wielding, bat-shit crazy Wylie (more on Nic later—let’s be honest, you came here for Nic). Frank Grillo as Harrigan! Yes, that Frank Grillo, Crossbones from Captain America? Sergeant from The Purge? Ringing any bells yet? And what’s a martial arts movie without Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, Furious 7)? I loved Tony’s character, Kueng. Kueng is who I would want as a sidekick/friend in an alien ass-kicking contest. His on-screen ballet of jiu-jitsu seems effortless and speaks to Logothetis’s insight into casting.
Though a bit forced, Eddie Steeples’ (Zombie Apocalypse, Would You Rather), Tex brings some terrific comedic relief into what is, for the most part, a (somewhat) serious film. Watching him attempt to translate the local language sets the tone for his character perfectly and his charisma pretty much steals every scene he’s in.
Okay, so at this point, if I have to explain to you who Nic Cage is, either your mom is a religious nut-job, hellbent on keeping you away from the devil and locked in a closet under the stairs or you have never watched a fun movie, like ever. Like most moments in life that usher in something new, I remember where I was when I understood that Nic Cage went all-in with bat-shit-crazy. I was in Maine, sitting in a dark theater with my son, watching Ghost Rider 2. Right about the time Nic hops on his motorcycle and careens off screaming with insanity, I knew I had witnessed him take the next step in evolution into the Nic Cage we know and love today.
Oddly, though, Nic’s character, Wylie, who is actually supposed to be a bit crazy, has Nic toning his usual fantastic self into more of a wise kind of madness—something I was happy to see as it reminded me that he’s a great actor. The sword choreography between Wylie and the alien is spectacular, and the emotion Nic delivers in a revealing scene towards the end is done with grace and ease that gives a glimpse into his past. Which reminds me, if you haven’t watched him in Color Out of Space, you need to get on that, stat.
Aside from some terrible CGI blood and the laughable ninja star throwing frenzy—a toss back to the old westerns when a gun never had to be reloaded—and an alien predator who cannot aim for shit; Jiu Jitsu ends up being a lot of fun. A cross between Predator and John Wick, Jiu-Jitsu is the martial arts film you didn’t know you needed. Come for the action. Stay for Nic Cage.
Jiu Jitsu comes to theaters, VOD and Digital from The Avenue November 20th.
By Daniel Boucher