Kickboxer: Vengeance is the latest in a seemingly endless parade of reboots and series relaunches. While largely unnecessary for those who fondly remember the 1989 original, this is a pretty decent remake.
Eric (the late Darren Shahlavi) is looking for his next great battle. He’s tired of fighting for chump change and his Olympic gold medal hasn’t set him up for a longtime future. His old friend (Gina Carano in a role that oddly doesn’t require her to showcase her MMA skills) sets him up to battle Muay Thai champion Tong Po (David Bautista, Spectre). Eric’s brother, Kurt (Alan Moussi), is leery of the plan and his concern proves correct as Tong Po kills Kurt.
Desperate for revenge, Kurt will stop at nothing to avenge his brother. The 1989 original was hardly a cinematic masterpiece, but it had it charm as a martial arts slugfest. And it solidified Jean-Claude Van Damme’s status as a box office draw. Van Damme returns for this reboot, but now in the role of the teacher Durand instructing Kurt.
The biggest issue with Kickboxer: Vengeance is Moussi doesn’t possess an iota of Van Damme’s charisma. That’s immediately apparent the moment Van Damme arrives onscreen. Full of swagger and exuding coolness, Van Damme could easily have just assumed control of the film and the film would have been better for it.
Call it The Expendables effect. We’ve grown accustomed to our action stars still slugging it out well into their 50s. Daniel Craig is hardly a youngster at 48. Add on the fact that Van Damme still looks like a million bucks and can kick with the best of them it’s not outlandish to suspect Kickboxer: Vengeance would have been just fine with him in the lead role.
Even though he’s in the Mr. Miyagi role, Van Damme does get one terrific fight scene against Georges St-Pierre (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Fortunately, Moussi gets the job done on the biggest requirement for the film — the fighting. What he lacks with screen presence he makes up for with kick flip ability. Bautista more than handles his end as the ultimate final boss. He’s savage, brutal and scary. Most reasonable folks wouldn’t want to fight Bautista in a regular setting. With the Muay Thai wraps laced with glass and a swaying topknot he looks even more menacing.
Screenwriters Jim McGrath and Dimitri Logothetis wisely keep the premise simple — kickboxer wants revenge. That doesn’t mean they’re not prone to dutifully following a slew of cliches. Sara Malakul Lane’s sole purpose in the film seems to be a poorly-written love interest whose police investigation constantly gets sidetracked by Kurt’s amazing abs.
Director John Stockwell (In the Blood) gets a tad too overindulgent with the slow-mo effects, but otherwise stages crisp action. Too often directors shoot the hand to hand combat in dizzying fashion making the action hard to follow. Stockwell lets the action unfold allowing for easy comprehension. For a check your brain fighting film, the cinematography is pretty stunning with several impressive sequences.
Kickboxer: Vengeance didn’t have as many high stakes as some other 2016 remakes, but it delivers better than most making for a fun viewing experience.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo Credit: RLJ Entertainment