Despite being a reboot of the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme cult classic action flick nobody really asked for, Kickboxer: Vengeance is a might better than you’re probably expecting. Sure, it’s corny as all hell and has only the most modest of ambitions, but it serves up plenty of sharply-filmed martial arts mayhem, and JCVD is a real hoot.
After his brother Eric (the late Darren Shahlavi) is killed in a fight by Muay Thai champion Tong Po (Dave Bautista), Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) heads to Thailand to seek the guidance of his brother’s mentor, Master Durand (Van Damme), in the hope of meting vengeance out on Po.
There’s absolutely nothing here you haven’t seen before in the martial arts genre; there’s a deep-seated family revenge plot, a throwaway female love interest who exists largely to get naked, and of course, a ton of training montages.
That said, going in with low expectations as you probably will does have its upsides; while not a good film in any strict sense, it certainly never falls below watchable. John Stockwell’s sturdy direction is aided by Mateo Londono’s sharp cinematography to make the most of the setting and action, such that you might occasionally forget about the scrawled-on-a-napkin narrative. Cast and crew hurtle through the rampant cliches with a fair level of enthusiasm, and if nothing else, this is absolutely a film that knows exactly what it is.
Even with name actors and athletes such as Bautista (who proves perfectly-cast as the antagonist) and Gina Carano (whose role is immediately forgettable), the major lure here will of course be JCVD. While it’s easy to be cynical and expect nothing more than an extended cameo, to be fair he does have a significant presence in the movie’s latter two acts. Getting to demonstrate how little age has slowed him down and transitioning effortlessly into the mentor role, he’s the film’s greatest asset, and hilariously a great deal more charismatic than the protagonist himself.
If you’re eager for some well-shot martial arts action, you could do a lot worse than Kickboxer: Vengeance, even if the screenplay is as low-effort as they come. It’s easy, inoffensive, action-packed viewing, and for some that’ll do the job.
Kickboxer is in select cinemas and on VOD September 2nd