Review: Kickboxer: Vengeance (Fantasia 2016)
PLOT: After his brother is killed in the ring, a kickboxer (Alain Moussi) trains under the tutelage of a legendary coach (Jean-Claude Van Damme) in order to take-on the man responsible (Dave Bautista).
REVIEW: I’m not ashamed to admit that of all the amazing movies premiering at this year’s edition of the Fantasia Film Festival, one of the titles I was most psyched for was KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE. A long-gestating reboot/remake of the old JCVD vehicle, this has been a mysterious title for a while as despite wrapping production over a year ago, only a short teaser ever saw the light of day (despite the fact that it comes out in less than a month). Despite this, a sequel, KICKBOXER: RETALIATION is already in production (star Alain Moussi even sent a video greeting from the production office).
While I’d love to be able to say KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE is a solid debut for Moussi, a fellow Canuck, the movie itself is a mess despite some good moments. It looks as though director John Stockwell (BLUE CRUSH, INTO THE BLUE) had some issues in post, with some oddball continuity errors (Georges St-Pierre wanders in and out of the movie – hinting at what might have been a larger part initially) while, worst of all, it seems like a good chunk (but not all – possibly 20-30%) of Van Damme’s dialogue has been looped by someone doing a (bad) JCVD impersonation – bizarre for a movie with a decent $17 million budget (as per Wikipedia).
In the lead, Moussi is clearly making the most of his shot as a solo action star. A former stunt performer, he definitely has the physique and moves, and when KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE is focused on the action; he makes for a capable lead. His dialogue delivery is still a little flat, but not embarrassingly so. It’s too bad he wasn’t given the opportunity to inject a little humor into the film, as a scene during the credits featuring Moussi recreating JCVD’s infamous drunken KICKBOXER dance hints at a sense of humor that wasn’t exploited here. While he’s still a newbie, he definitely comes-off better than UFC champ St-Pierre, with the ribald Fantasia audience greeting most of his lines with laughter, even when he’s trying to be serious. His line readings are incredibly stiff, and some more coaching would have made for this a better vehicle for him, even if his part ends up being inconsequential.
Director Stockwell struggles with the tone throughout, and scenes that are supposed to be serious end up unintentionally bad, such as what has to be one of the most awkward love scenes ever between Moussi and love interest Sara Malakul Lane. The latter plays a tough Thai cop trying to bust the deadly fight underworld run by Gina Carano, wasted in a non-fighting part (why???). I also didn’t care for Stockwell’s DV-look, which is very un-cinematic and makes this seem like little more than DTV product.
The saving grace of the whole thing is definitely Van Damme, despite the weird looping and the fact that, once again, he keeps his sunglasses on for almost the entire film, even during the night scenes. As the cynical Master Durant, JCVD gets lots of screen time and a few fights, the highlight being a brief bout with St-Pierre. Despite being well-into his fifties, Van Damme is in just as good shape as his younger co-stars, with his shirtless fight opposite Moussi getting cheers. The thing is – Van Damme is so much fun in the role you can’t help but wish he was the lead, and that this was a KICKBOXER sequel rather than reboot. Next to JCVD, Moussi seems a little bland, although he does get one really cool action scene where he uses Thai elephants as props, a la Tony Jaa.
As the baddie, Tong Po, Dave Bautista is his usual imposing self, although like JCVD, he comes-off better than the hero, and one can’t help but wonder how KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE bight have wound up with him as the good guy. However, he makes a pretty solid baddie, and unlike his small part in SPECTRE, he actually gets to speak this time.
While a mess and often ineptly assembled, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE might be worth a look for action fans, with some good set pieces/fights and a fun JCVD performance, even if I’m sure much of it isn’t voiced by the man himself. With a film under his belt, it’s also very possibly that Moussi will come off more strongly in the sequel than he did here, and as far as first movies go, he could have had a worse vehicle. It’s a shame though, as with a few tweaks, some more post-production and a better overall look, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE could have been a really fun B-grade actioner.