There’s dumb chop socky. Then there’s Jiu Jitsu levels of dumb chop socky.
I rolled the dice again at the local Red Box this week. Our last two outings have been godsends, supplying one excellent film and one “so bad it’s good” film. Hell, one of them even starred Nicolas Cage, who happens to also star in Jiu Jitsu. Could we really be on streak? Three actually good Red Box movies in a row?
Nope. We definitely weren’t.
Jiu Jitsu (2020)
Every six years, an ancient order of jiu-jitsu fighters joins forces to battle a vicious race of alien invaders. But when a celebrated war hero goes down in defeat, the fate of the planet and mankind hangs in the balance.
Director Dimitri Logothesis has got quite a résumé. He was spotted early on during his acting career by none other than Martin Scorcese, who apparently liked his work enough to encourage him to direct. He has a bunch of solid films and plays under his belt. He also has intimate knowledge of martial arts films, having scored an unexpected success with his Kickboxer franchise of films.
I say all this because Jiu Jitsu’s story is so goddamn bonkers and bad, I had assumed it was the work of a first-time nobody.
I will give the film it’s proper due. The fights scenes are pretty awesome. Often nonsensical, but when it comes to actually executing the choreography and cinematography, they’re a blast. The film certainly has the kung fu chops in its cast – long-time journeyman and Kickboxer star Alain Moussi executes crisp, camera-friendly martial arts sequences that have all the variety and intricacy you could ask for, and Tony Jaa…is freaking Tony Jaa.
This film even makes Nicolas Cage look like a Jiu Jitsu master (he’s actually the only guy in the damn film who even gets close to using actual Jiu Jitsu techniques!) The stunt double work is obvious, but not distracting, and Cage actually is in front of the camera for quite a lot of his action sequences.
What Doesn’t (Hint: Everything Not a Fight Scene.)
The story of this movie is at once generic and completely crazy-bananas. The premise is basically Predator, except the Predator was thoughtful enough to schedule his play date with Arnie in advance and tell him what kinda toys he’d be bringing. It’s also pretty close to Mortal Kombat: a tourney every couple years decides the fate of the planet, with an alien bruiser mauling the Earth’s finest warriors. If the film just kinda stuck to that frame, it’d be a trite story but perfectly fine scaffolding to hang all of the fight scenes off of.
Spoiler: It Does Not Stick to that Frame.
Jiu Jitsu spends way too much time working a cockamamie amnesia story that doesn’t actually do much but frustrate the “we need to kick this alien sonofabitch’s ass.” We don’t get the alien for half the movie. We get Alain Moussi running from laughable CG shurikens, a fall from a cliff and conk on the head that clearly would have killed his ass dead, and then a completely silly bit where a G.I. Generic military interrogates him in the stupidest manner possible.
Does it go anywhere? Nope. He is sprung from lock-down by Tony Jaa, runs away from Tony Jaa with the army analyst who was the least shitty to him, and she promptly gets her ass killed. A half hour introducing characters and ideas that essentially vanish in a poof of fake blood.
It Could Be Worse. It Could Also Be Way Better.
The last half of the movie is better, in that it is nonsense that at least is part of the story. Tony Jaa reveals he’s part of the order of martial artists who train to fight the baddie every six years, and that before his noggin got shook, Alain was too. Nicolas Cage fits into the story in a bit of a Star Wars cliche, but at least everyone is doing ostensibly story-related stuff in between the fight scenes. Their strategy to beat the baddie is dumb as a bag of hammers, but oh well, it gives a chance for everyone to get a cool one-on-one fight with Totally Not the Predator.
Jiu Jitsu is that kind of lame-brained martial arts flick that we don’t get often these days. The straight to USA network TV, Heatseeker kind of dross. It has some fantastic fights, but precious little else. Wait for this flick to be free on Hulu if you absolutely need your Tony Jaa or Nicolas Cage fix.