What does the rebooted Kickboxer franchise need to spice things up? Maybe a little Zatoichi? Alas, Master Durand will be blinded by the newest villain, but it hardly matters. He equally skilled when relying on his other four senses. The question will be whether he can train his pseudo-protégé Kurt Sloane to be just as adept at sensing and anticipating an opponent’s moves when he faces his next behemoth rival. The stakes are higher, but Durand is just as Zen in Dimitri Logothetis’s Kickboxer: Retaliation (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.
Previously, in Kickboxer: Vengeance, Tong Po killed Sloane’s brother and then Sloane killed him, fair and square, in an underground steel cage fight. That is just how the rules work in Thailand. Sloane went home, bringing Liu, Bangkok’s only honest cop with him. Eighteen months later, shadowy gangster and underground fight promoter Thomas Tang More has him abducted and incarcerated in the pretext of facing charges for Tong Po’s murder. Of course, he really just wants Sloane to defend his title against Mongkok, an Icelandic mountain of steroids.
Initially, Sloane continues to defy More, but he relents when Liu is also kidnapped. Fortunately, the newly blind Durand is available to train him (he has been blind ten minutes, but he is already like Hundred Eyes in Marco Polo). Sloane will also get tutorials from fellow prisoners, including Briggs, an American boxer with a familiar looking facial tattoo. Mongkok is juiced to the max, but he has a glass jaw, so let the fun begin.
Alain Moussi is not exactly household name yet, but he rock-solidly anchors the rebooted franchise. He has plenty of chops and more than sufficient screen charisma. You could almost think of him as the next Michael Dudikoff. Naturally, Jean-Claude Van Damme is ultra-cool and super-limber as Durand. Sara Malakul Lane’s Liu doesn’t get to be as proactive this time around, but she continues to develop some believable chemistry with Moussi.
Perhaps most importantly, Iron Mike Tyson looks like he is having a blast as Briggs, which was surely a relief to Logothetis. As you would expect, Christopher Lambert chews the scenery with villainous panache as More. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson looks impossibly big as Mongkok, which makes you wonder who they could possibly get that would be any huger for the promised third film. Plus, for extra added authenticity, about a dozen real-life MMA fighters play themselves or slightly fictionalized analogues.
Logothetis, who co-wrote and co-produced Vengeance, gives action fans cleanly legible fight scenes. Retaliation is twenty minutes lengthier, which is on the longish side for this genre, but Logothetis keeps the pacing peppy. So maybe it is meatheaded, but it is definitely entertaining. Easily recommended for fans of martial arts cinema and Van Damme, Kickboxer: Retaliation opens tomorrow (1/26) in New York, at the AMC Empire.