The latest in the Kickboxer series lacks in both plot and character, but makes up for it with kinetic, non-stop action
Before we even reach the opening credits of this sequel to the reboot of the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic, two people have been thrown from a moving train after a massive tango-turned-punch-up. Director Dimitri Logothetis puts things into action mode from the off, and Retaliation doesn’t really let up for the next 100 minutes.
The plot is back-of-a-napkin simple – Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi), banged up in a Thai prison featuring a surprisingly high concentration of martial artists, must fight a very big man in the form of Game of Thrones’ Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson. The performances are a mixed bag – leading man Moussi always looks like he’s trying to do some tough mental arithmetic, and Van Damme’s role as Sloane’s mentor Durand is surprisingly unconvincing for a man who has literally done this before. Christopher Lambert, meanwhile, hams it up gloriously as Thomas Moore, dodgy underground fight promoter and apparent lovechild of Dr Strangelove and The Riddler.
Ronaldinho – yes, that one – has a cameo in which he hoofs footballs at our hero like it’s a playground reenactment of the bottle scene from Rumble in the Bronx, and Mike Tyson is introduced mid-battle with the immortal line “you interrupted my meditation”. This enlightenment-based disagreement is, of course, resolved through punching.
Alain Moussi and Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer: Retaliation
While the plot is ludicrously straightforward and the characters are so flat you could slide them under a closed door, the film’s joy comes from a wanton, outlandish commitment to hand-to-hand action. We’re in non-stop scraps for a straight 20 minutes before Van Damme makes his initial appearance, with a kinetic Crank-esque fury to Moussi’s swedgings, and things just continue from there.
There’s also a touch of the Bayhem about Retribution; everything’s in constant flux, slowing down, speeding up, shuffling about. A fight scene at a waterside market offers an overblown take on every martial arts trope imaginable – dolly zooms, environmental weaponry, limbs flying about all over the place. This is a film that knows its best hope is to viscerally grab your attention, and so won’t stop throwing things at you in order to keep it.
That said, the final fight between Moussi and Björnsson is an impressively well-paced and choreographed affair, even if it relies on an outlandish piece of deus ex machina that would make an anti-doping officer's head explode. And that’s far from the only head-turning moment during this wild ride. There’s the bizarre fixation with prison lashings that Mel Gibson would find 'a bit much'; the subtitles with random words blown-up and colorized to show their importance in a sentence; the crowd extra in the climactic fight scene who really looks like Jeremy Corbyn. But for each of these odd asides, there's a set-too, scrap or scuffle to balance it out.
As a piece of genre cinema, Kickboxer: Retaliation is a pulpy but flawed throwback, but as a Friday night screensaver and slice of action escapism, it’s absolutely unmissable.
Leaner than Moussi's torso, trailer only. [Peter Simpson]