For those of us who were watching action films back in the 80’s, the original Kickboxer remains a fond memory. With it’s cheesy plot, great fight scenes and a charismatic performance by Jean Claude Van Damme who had just made his breakthrough in the similar Bloodsport. There were a few sequels, none with Van Damme, and none nearly as good as the original. Now the franchise has been rebooted with Van Damme no less. Not as the hero, but in the mentor/trainer role, but he’s back none the less.
The plot stays close to the original. Eric Sloane (Darren Shahlavi in his final role) goes to Thailand to fight Muay Thai champion Tong Po (Dave Bautista). His younger brother Kurt (Alain Moussi) arrives in time for their fight, only to see his brother killed in the ring. Swearing revenge he ends up training with his brother’s mentor Master Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and becoming involved with a Thai policewoman out to bring down the gamblers behind Tong Po. Of course it ends with the two facing each other in an epic battle.
I had high expectations for this film, perhaps a bit too high as I was somewhat disappointed by the end result. It’s still a good film, and given the film’s troubled production maybe I should be glad it turned out as good as it did. Originally set to star Scott Adkins as Kurt and Tony Jaa as his mentor the film ended up being the first major role for Moussi who’s better known as one of the best stuntman in the business. There were issues with the cast and crew not being paid at one point and rumors abound that director John Stockwell (Touristas, Blue Crush) left the production early with Van Damme directing some of the remaining scenes. The fact there are 34 listed producers says a lot by itself.
Despite that the film managed to come out quite entertaining regardless thanks to a wonderfully quirky performance by Van Damme and plenty of convincing fight sequences from Moussi. He may not be much of an actor but he certainly has the looks and moves to make it as an action star. He gets to show his moves off plenty, between training scenes and all manner of fights in and out of the ring, at one point he even gets to fight on and elephant. Bautista is big and imposing as the villain but isn’t given a lot to do outside of his fight scenes. Also, he does not look like anyone who would have the name Tong Po. Which makes the film somewhat odd in that you have a Muay Thai film set in Thailand with a white American guy trained by a white European guy fighting a Filipino/white American guy with a Thai name. They could have saved a ton on the budget and set it in L.A. with that cast.
But in the end the film is fun and that’s what matters. And between the main fights you can always try to spot the various MMA stars who make appearances, including Georges St-Pierre, Gina Carano, Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum.