KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE Wins Some and Loses Some

I was always more of a Bloodsport guy than a Kickboxer guy.

That isn’t to say I haven’t seen both countless times. It’s just to say that I’ve seen the former probably 50 times, and the latter more like 30. And it had been ages since I had revisited the original Kickboxer. But in preparation for this rebooted Kickboxer entry I checked out the original again and found it to be wonderfully entertaining, while still not quite on Bloodsport’s level. The standout in the original Kickboxer is its star Jean-Claude Van Damme. This may seem painfully obvious, but Van Damme truly is a star. His physicality combined with an indomitable charisma and charming sense of humor are the cornerstones that built him into a lifelong screen presence.

Kickboxer: Vengeance is sorely lacking in the charisma and sense of humor departments.

As a direct to video action film it’s pretty stacked. You’ve got JCVD returning to the franchise in the wizened trainer role of Durand, Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Dave Bautista taking on the villainous role of Tong Po (the film’s highlight), and even Haywire’s Gina Carano playing a slimy fight promoter. Fight film stalwart Darren Shahlavi also makes his very final screen appearance as the doomed Eric Sloan, whose match with Tong Po sets the events of this film in motion. Shahlavi passed away far too young and was always a welcome presence in action cinema. This role adds an emotional punch to the beginning of the film that was much needed.

In the lead role as Kurt Sloane, Kickboxer: Vengeance stars Alain Moussi. A veteran of stunt work and action choreography, this is Moussi’s first starring role and he’s no Jean-Claude Van Damme. His physical presence and dexterity are on point, creating fight sequences that are at least adequate and often exciting. Yet there isn’t much of a spark of life in him beyond that. Bautista and Van Damme simply overpower him as actors throughout the film.

Bautista’s Tong Po is more of a character in this film than the original was, though he’s still the strong silent type. I just found his menace and brutality far more compelling than anything else going on in the film. There’s a cult surrounding him, which added a dimension of power not in the first film. The way Bautista fights is with a zen cockiness that makes him feel truly unbeatable. I’m not even 100% sure how he lost at the end and kind of feel like I was rooting for him, which isn’t the way you want to feel in the climactic battle of the film.

In the end, Kickboxer: Vengeance feels like a missed opportunity, what with all those great names attached to this project. It delivers more or less what it promises, and might have felt better if not for a vastly superior original property from which it cannot escape comparison. Van Damme still has more charisma here than Moussi, but his kooky trainer character has far less to do than the original trainer from the first film. Van Damme’s presence almost serves as a reminder of better times for action cinema.

All of those criticisms aside, this is still totally my kind of thing. And if you dig direct to video action, you aren’t going to be angry that you watched this. It’s competent and occasionally exciting, even if the lead is bland. Moussi is once again headlining another Kickboxer installment next year, with Game Of Thrones’ Mountain playing the villain and Van Damme returning as the trainer. There’s a 100% chance I’ll be heading right back to the franchise to check that new film out. I just hope they give Moussi a chance to get goofy, and that he lets himself loose a little bit and delivers the kind of no holds barred charisma that JCVD unleashed to prove himself in the early days.

And I’m Out.

Kickboxer: Vengeance hits Blu-ray/DVD November 8th from RLJ Entertainment

Originally published at on November 8, 2016.

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