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Review: 'Kickboxer: Vengeance' (2016) - Dave Bautista Part 3

Don’t worry, Folks, I have saved the best for last. I know you are all huge fans of Jean-Claude Van Damme (If you aren’t, just pretend for my sake please), and you were all eagerly awaiting the reboot of the Kickboxer franchise that featured Dave Bautista as the main “villain”, Tong Po, and brought back Van Damme, not to reprise his role of Kurt Sloane, but to play Sloan’s mentor, Master Durand. And I’m sure you became more confident in the film’s quality when you heard they were bringing in Georges St-Pierre and Gina Carano for small parts. I mean, what better way to bring some realism to a martial arts movie, than to cast actual MMA fighters in the movie? But who’s the lead, you asked? Good question, and the answer is none other than the Alain Moussi. . . . . . Ok, you caught me. I’m pretending. I didn’t have any clue who that was either, but I did my research. He is a stuntman turned actor who has done stunts in a bunch of big budget movies including White House Down, X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Suicide Squad. More importantly, he can do the splits like JCVD. . . so I’m sold on him.

If you're going to replace JCVD, you better be able to do the splits!

Just in case you haven’t seen Kickboxer (I know you have. As we covered earlier, everyone here is a huge fan of Van Damme and has probably seen all of his movies), I’ll recap the plot. Kurt Sloane’s brother, Eric Sloane, is killed by Tong Po in a no-rules fighting tournament. As a result, Kurt decides to get revenge by training with his brother’s trainer, Master Durand, and defeat Tong Po. I’m not so sure this is a great idea since Durand’s training directly led to Eric getting killed, but it’s Van Damme. . . so it can’t be his fault. . . I guess his brother was just a bad student. Let’s face it; this movie isn’t something we haven’t seen before. It’s a martial arts movie. It isn’t trying to blow us away with an original story and it isn’t trying to push across some super powerful message. It just wants to show some badass fight scenes that get the adrenaline going. However, for the sake of being thorough, let’s talk about acting.

I was on board with Moussi as Sloane to begin with and, in fairness to him, he doesn’t do a bad job, he just doesn’t have much charisma or personality. He pulls off the physicality of the role amazingly. You can tell he was a stuntman, as his exceptional athleticism is put on display from the very start. His acting, however. . . . not so exceptional. He hadn’t done much acting before this movie and, while he could have been much worse, he definitely needs more work. Aside from his acting skills which, admittedly, don’t matter that much in a martial arts movie, he just isn’t very likeable. He doesn’t have the charm that Van Damme brought to the role back in 1989. He’s not bad enough to detract much from the movie though, and his commitment to the fight sequences more than make up for his lack of acting skills.

Speaking of Van Damme, I absolutely love his character in this movie! Van Damme, more than any other 90s action star, has survived as an actor by trying new things. He has survived by expanding on the humor that he brought to his roles throughout his career to become a pretty solid comedic actor (see Welcome to the Jungle (2013) and his new show on Amazon, Jean-Claude Van Johnson (2016)), and he has survived taking more chances as an actor (see JCVD (2008)). In this role, he displays his still superior athleticism in his fight scenes, and he shows his growth as an actor and as a comedian by creating a funny, memorable mentor to Sloane.

Van Damme creates a fun character in Master Durand.

Dave Bautista is perfect as Tong Po. His role in this is comparable to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984). Relax! I’m not suggesting this role will be as iconic or as memorable as that one. It won’t. It is similar, though, in the way they have casted a physically huge actor to play a character that is scary and intimidating, while not saying much. Bautista creates a demeanor for the character that, when combined with his physical stature and obvious fighting skills and athleticism, make for a truly formidable villain. This role might not test the limits of Bautista’s acting talent, but it is definitely one of his more memorable roles to date, and I would love to see him in more movies, or roles, just like this one.

Tell me you wouldn't be terrified to fight this guy!

Georges St-Pierre is serviceable in his small part as Kavi, a training partner and maybe-sort-of friend to Kurt Sloane. The role doesn’t require much acting and, let’s be honest, doesn’t even really need to be in the movie, but his fight scenes are pretty good and the fact that he is a former MMA fighter doesn’t hurt. Since this is a fighting movie, I can get past a throwaway character if his scenes are cool. St-Pierre’s fights are well done, so I’ll give him a pass.

Gina Carano’s role, on the other hand, is a little less forgivable. As I mentioned before in the Heist discussion (and as you already know if you have seen literally ANYTHING she has been in), Gina Carano absolutely cannot act. There are two things that allow me to get past her awful acting; 1) She is pretty dang pretty and 2) She was once a professional fighter so she can pull off action scenes and she is believable doing so. Now, you’re thinking what I was thinking going into this movie, “Awesome!!! Gina Carano is in Kickboxer. That means I get to look at her (she’s pretty) and I get to watch her kick some ass, right?” wrong!. . . Or I guess I should say, half wrong! We do get to see her, and she doesn’t disappoint in the pretty department, but it is a very small role and she doesn’t even fight once. . . NOT ONCE!!! Why would they bother to get Gina Carano to be in a movie that is entirely about fighting, and not even let her fight?!?! Truly disappointing.

Now let’s discuss what really matters in a martial arts movie like this one; the action. The fight scenes in this one are pretty spectacular. The choreography combines realism with the flair and acrobatics typically seen in movies like this to create some fun and intense action. They are shot in a way that puts you up close and personal to the fight, while still allowing every move to be visible. Every fight is clear and easy to follow. This is helped by the lack of shaky cam and the fact that every person involved is a former fighter, wrestler, or stuntman. They all have the athleticism to pull off the choreography, which allows the director to have more freedom since he doesn’t have to rely on quick cuts and editing to cover up the actors shortcomings as a fighter (see any late career Steven Seagal movie).

The final fight between Sloan Tong Po is hyped up throughout the movie, and it doesn’t disappoint. The difference in size and fighting style (Bautista is big and heavy hitting while Moussi is smaller and more agile) makes an interesting dynamic to the fight. They also have different rules to each round, the use of swords for example, to prevent the fight from becoming redundant or stale. The main issue I had with this fight is I found myself rooting for Tong Po rather than Kurt Sloane. Tong Po is made out to be the villain (Why?! Because he killed a guy in a fighting tournament with no rules? Big Deal. There are NO RULES. The other guy knew that when he entered the tournament. It’s not like Tong Po cheated or anything!) But I couldn’t help but pull for him. I realize I’m supposed to root for the “good guy”, but Bautista makes his character so much more likeable than Moussi, and he brings so much more to the role, that I can’t help but like him more. This didn’t take anything away from the quality of the movie, but it did hinder some of the emotional heft I should have felt. I mean, can you imagine rooting for Ivan Drago in Rocky IV? It kinda changes how you would feel about the ending, doesn’t it?

The final fight alone makes this worth a watch.

Kickboxer: Vengeance is exactly what it sets out to be; a badass martial arts movie. Considering the cast, I was not surprised by the quality of the fight scenes. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the production value of the movie. Kickboxer has the look and feel of a big budget movie. I’m typically against remakes and reboots, but when they are made this well, and I can clearly see that everyone involved truly cares about the film, I can’t complain too much. Any fan of manly badass action movies, or martial arts movies in particular, will love this movie. I highly recommend giving this one a shot, especially those of you (ALL of you) who are jonesing for your JCVD fix.

RATING: 7.5 out of 10

There you have it, Folks. Three reviews of man movies all featuring Dave Bautista. So what did I discover? What have we learned about Dave Bautista? Where will his career take him, and where will he end up on the spectrum of WWE stars turned actors? I think Bautista has a solid career as an actor ahead of him. Obviously there’s no telling what lies ahead, but he has shown the charisma and personality needed to succeed as an action star, and the willingness to take on different roles in order to allow himself to grow as an actor, and prevent him from playing the same character in every movie. If he continues to choose his roles like he has so far, starring in small budget action movies to satisfy action fans (The Man With The Iron Fists, Riddick, Kickboxer: Vengeance) while sprinkling in roles in big budget blockbusters to keep his name in the spotlight (Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre, the upcoming Blade Runner 2049), his career will only continue to grow.

I don’t think he will ever match the popularity of Dwayne Johnson (very few do). That being said, in my mind, Bautista is already an infinitely more interesting and watchable actor than Johnson. He has enough personality and ability to become characters to prevent him from playing the same character like Johnson (let's be honest, he just plays The Rock in every movie), and he has shown enough acting talent and enough discretion in choosing the right roles and movies to continue to build his career and prevent him from becoming a gimmick like Hulk Hogan. I can't wait to follow his future career.

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