You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Kickboxer: Vengeance’

The Muscles From Brussels now mentors a young fighter in this remake of the 1989 action fave.

David Baustista, Gina Carano, Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum, Sara Malakul Lane, Alain Moussi, Georges St-Pierre, Jean-Claude Van Damme, T.J. Storm, Sam Medina, Hawn Tran, Matthew Ziff. (English, Thai dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3082898/

After a summer notable for many expensive action-movie disappointments in which even concepts traditionally associated with hands-on stuntwork (i.e. “The Legend of Tarzan”) were overwhelmed by CGI, there’s something refreshing about the admittedly dopey but good-natured, straightforward mano a mano of “Kickboxer: Vengeance.” This de facto remake of the 1989 martial arts favorite, with Jean-Claude Van Damme returning a quarter century later (albeit this time as the hero’s wise elder trainer), improves on the boilerplate original without really changing its essentials.

This revamp (which ignores several interim direct-to-video sequels Van Damme did not participate in) is a bit shorter, a tad more stylish, and utilizes the same clichés a little less ponderously. Brainiacs need not apply to this otherwise unreconstructed testosterone-a-thon, but of its type, “Vengeance” is well-crafted good fun — and good proof that you don’t need more than two hours or $100 million to give ticket buyers their money’s worth in popcorn thrills.

A high-water mark for its undistinguished co-directors Mark DiSalle and David Worth, the original film was only JCVD’s third starring vehicle (following some bit parts and a couple fighting villain roles), and despite damning reviews was a considerable box-office success. Viewed today, it’s a slick if generic B-plus-grade endeavor whose script and presentation attain an almost “MacGruber”-esque perfection of 1980s tuff-guy cinema stereotypes. Raising it all a notch was the undeniable athletic appeal of “the Muscles from Brussels,” a handsome and personable natural screen presence, if not one blessed with great acting range.

Popular on Variety

Representing actor turned director John Stockwell’s most prominent endeavor since the vacation-spot mellers “Blue Crush,” “Into the Blue,” and “Turistas” over a decade ago, “Kickboxer: Vengeance” opens with some gorgeous aerial shots of rural Thailand that herald its technical superiority to the competent but uninspired original. (That extends to the dexterity with which a film largely shot around New Orleans passes for being almost entirely set in Southeast Asia.) The basic narrative is unchanged, although Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath’s script juggles things chronologically so the original’s early progress is framed as a flashback sprung after an opening sequence.

Otherwise, it’s still the same revenge-driven tale: After his “global karate champion” older brother Eric (Darren Shahlavi) foolishly accepts a lucrative offer from shady ex-girlfriend Marcia (Gina Carano) to fight a “no rules” bout in Bangkok, Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) witnesses his sibling killed at the hands of hulking Muay Thai fighter Tong Po (Dave Batista). This is apparently a normal outcome for such illegal underground matches, whose high-stakes gambling spectators expect death or at least grievous bodily harm for their cash. Local police are strangely indifferent to Kurt’s insistence on an investigation; indeed, they try deporting him when he gets too pushy.

Attempting to take justice into his own hands, he infiltrates Po’s countryside lair, posing as yet another foreign fighter eager to be trained by the master. But he’s swiftly found out and saved by Liu (Sara Malakul Lane), a lone non-corrupt Thai Royal Police detective. Valuing him as the only eye witness willing to come forward about his brother’s death, let alone the whole illegal-death-match syndicate, she deposits him for safekeeping with the surly, reluctant Master Durand (Van Damme). Eric soon realizes only the latter can train him sufficiently to challenge Po.

At heart, “Kickboxer: Vengeance” is nothing more sophisticated than one long training montage bookended by big fights, with a few additional action sequences (including one involving elephants and ninjas) thrown in along the way. But the packaging is deft enough to at least partially camouflage that simplicity, with director and screenplay thankfully leaving little room for the kind of on-the-nose dialogue and other factors that made the original’s formulaic nature all too plain. With the film’s support cast inevitably dominated by fighters in various disciplines drawn from the UFC and other arenas, there’s more than enough emphasis on one-on-one combat here to satisfy those who rate such entertainments solely in terms of that content. (Which is also the reason the ’89 “Kickboxer” remains well-loved, despite its shortcomings.)

Needless to say, character complexity and acting finesse are not in high demand here, though everyone acquits themselves well enough, one minor but irritating exception being Sam Medina as a ring MC with the manner of an overbearing carny barker. The handsome Moussi, who’s primarily worked as a stuntman before, makes an affable protagonist with a convenient vague resemblance to his name co-star (though he’s considerably taller).

JCVD himself is allowed to be a little too cool for school, as he rarely doffs shades or pork pie hat — though when he does finally shrug off his shirt, there’s no question who would win the “Lowest Body Fat Ratio” prize amongst 55-year-olds worldwide. Perhaps already-in-production sequel “Kickboxer: Retaliation” (which adds Christopher Lambert and Mike Tyson to the mix) will let him show a little more humor, though there’s a nice in-joke bit where Master Durand is markedly unimpressed by Moussi demonstrating his own one-time specialty, the splits.

Otherwise, “Vengeance” shows a reasonable light touch, though it’s disappointing when a bar scene teases yet does not turn into a reprise of the ’89 edition’s most fondly remembered scene, in which a drunken Van Damme demonstrated his booty-centric “disco dancing” skills. All the more clever, then, that Stockwell springs a closing-credits surprise that is sure to send audiences out smiling.

Film Review: 'Kickboxer: Vengeance'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Aug. 8, 2016. (In Fantasia Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: An RLJ Entertainment release of a Radar Pictures, Acme Rocket Fuel production, in association with Headmon Productions, The Exchange. Producers: Dimitri Logothetis, Rob Hickman, Allen Knudson, Samuel Cory Timpson, Nicholas Celozzi, Ted Field. Executive producers: Larry Nealy, Steven Michael Swadling, Peter Meyer, Lee Williams, Benjamin Friedberg, Mike Weber, Lisette Ross, Thomas Van Dell, Rick Morse, Brian O’Shea, Nat McCormick, Jeff Bowler, David Bautista, Jonathan Meisner, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Alastair Burlingham, Anders Erden, Tim Smith, Ken Nutley, Stephen Cagnazzi, Scott Rudmann, Benjamin Friedberg, Jim Finkl, Alexander Tabrizi.

Crew: Director: John Stockwell. Screenplay: Dimitri Logothetis, James McGrath. Camera (color, widescreeen, HD): Mateo Londono. Editors: Chris A. Peterson, Carsten Kurpanek.

With: David Baustista, Gina Carano, Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum, Sara Malakul Lane, Alain Moussi, Georges St-Pierre, Jean-Claude Van Damme, T.J. Storm, Sam Medina, Hawn Tran, Matthew Ziff. (English, Thai dialogue)

More Film

  • Eddie Murphy Awkwafina

    The Golden Globes Polish Up Their New Respectability (Column)

    It’s always a fun ritual to peruse the nominations for the Golden Globes, because you’re probably going to see a handful of eyebrow-raisers and maybe a jaw-dropper, the sort of “Oh, did they actually do that?” choices that make the Golden Globes the Golden Globes. That’s the theory, at any rate. But it may be [...]

  • Greta Gerwig Lulu Wang Ava DuVernay

    Hollywood Responds to Golden Globes Female Director Snub: 'Advertisers Should Weigh In'

    Snubs and surprises are par for the course when it comes to award show nominations, but outrage over the shut-out of women in the best director category for the 2020 Golden Globes is proving considerable. Women nominees and Hollywood gender equity watchdogs have expressed disappointment and anger over the exclusion of at least four women [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    Golden Globes: Six Things to Know About the Film Nominations

    Most of Monday morning’s Globe nominations didn’t come as a big surprise. “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” have been ruling awards season – their many nominations were expected. But Globe wins don’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold — about half of best pic wins have been in sync [...]

  • Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS:

    Daisy Ridley on Life After 'Star Wars': 'I Am Working on Liking Myself'

    When Daisy Ridley was cast to play Rey in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” she vaulted from the quiet anonymity of a young working actor in the United Kingdom to sudden global mega-fame as the star of one of the most anticipated movies of the century. Since then, she reprised her role in Rian [...]

  • Game of Thrones Avengers Endgame

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers: Endgame' Among Most Popular Tweets of 2019

    Twitter released its top-trending topics and tweets of 2019 with “Game of Thrones,” “Avengers: Endgame,” and actor Tom Holland commanding the most tweets in the TV, movies, and actors categories. BTS holds both the No. 1 spot in the most-tweeted-about musicians category and the second-most-retweeted tweet worldwide. Since its release in June, a video of [...]

  • Lorenzo Soria77th Annual Golden Globes Nominations,

    HFPA President Responds to Golden Globes' Female Director Shut-Out: 'We Vote by Film'

    Despite gains in the number of films and TV shows helmed by women, female directors were completely shut out of the Golden Globes once again this year. The snub was immediately called out on social media, with filmmakers like “Honey Boy” director Alma Har’el tweeting, “do not look for justice in the awards system.” However, [...]

  • Bruno Dumont's 'Joan of Arc' Wins

    Bruno Dumont's 'Joan of Arc' Wins Louis Delluc Prize From French Critics

    Bruno Dumont’s “Joan of Arc (“Jeanne”), a semi-musical period drama that world premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won a special mention in the Un Certain Regard section, has received the Louis Delluc prize from French Critics. The jury of the Louis Delluc prize is headed by Gilles Jacob, the former president of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content