Film

Almost 30 Years Later, Jean-Claude Van Damme Is Still the Best Thing in ‘Kickboxer’ Movies

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Jean-Claude Van Damme never appeared in any of the official sequels to Kickboxer, but he’s back for the remake, albeit in the mentor role of an incongruously Belgian Muay Thai master living in Thailand. Still in fantastic shape and sporting a goofy hat and sunglasses, he’s arguably a better (though not bigger) movie star now than he was in 1989.

Unfortunately, he’s not the lead: Taking over JCVD’s role as aggrieved protagonist Kurt Sloane in Kickboxer: Vengeance is an athletically gifted charisma void named Alain Moussi, who, like previous Van Damme pal Scott Adkins, seems to lack even the confidence to be a good bad actor. Maybe it’s enough that he can do awesome flips.

Directed, oddly enough, by Blue Crush‘s John Stockwell, this reboot smartly doesn’t try to escalate the material to bigger and better status, keeping things small and scrappy and relying on the fighters to be the best special effects. For larger action scenes, Stockwell resorts to that annoying stutter-vision effect seen in Captain America: Civil War and the recent Fast and Furious flicks, which is usually used to cover for slow real-world choreography.

Thanks to the casting of experienced combat athletes like Georges St-Pierre and Dave Bautista, however, the one-on-one battles still provide the impact you’d hope for. (Bautista’s Tong Po doesn’t look especially Thai…but the original film’s villain was played by Moroccan-Belgian Michel Qissi, making the half-Filipino wrestler actually more Asian.)

A semi-sequel with Van Damme as an older Sloane (despite his off-camera death in part two) might have been preferable, but it’s probably for the best that he doesn’t risk hurting himself too badly. Maybe, like his onscreen mentor, Moussi can pick up the acting basics later. 

Kickboxer: Vengeance

Directed by John Stockwell

RLJ Entertainment

Opens September 2, AMC Empire 25

Available on demand