Review: JIU JITSU, or How to Ruin a Movie About Nic Cage Fighting an Alien
On the face of it, a film about Nicolas Cage fighting an alien assassin in the jungle should be hard to screw up, let Cage rage and the entertainment is almost a given. With action specialist Dimitri Logothetis at the helm, Jiu Jitsu certainly had potential to deliver solid, pulpy, kick-punchy fun. Unfortunately, in spite of an all-star cast of martial arts superstars and a solid concept, the end product is somehow simultaneously too hyperactive to track and a complete slog in terms of plot.
Though it's Cage on the poster selling the film, Jiu Jitsu is actually a vehicle for B-level martial arts star Alain Moussi, a favorite of Logothetis who led the casts of his previous entries in the Kickboxer saga, Vengeance and Retaliation. Moussi plays an amnesiac who is rescued from drowning off the coast of Burma and turned over to US military authorities, who mistake him for a smuggler and lock him up. It certainly doesn't help that without his memory, Moussi, who we later learn is actually named Jake, can't really dispute their accusations. He won't have to linger long behind bars, though, as about twenty minutes in, Logothetis decides it's time to turn this feature film into a painfully extended stunt reel.
Out of nowhere, a turbo-charged Tony Jaa appears to spring Jake loose from his cell, which quickly turns into a live action first-person shooter with a Jake's-eye-view camera following Jaa as the two of them barrel through a seemingly unending and circuitous array of nameless jabronis on their way to safety where Jake learns that he's actually the leader of a group of elite fighters trained to fight an alien martial arts assassin named Brax (whose appearance is somehow connected to a comet that passes Earth every six years) looking for a good fight. If he gets a good one, the fighters are able to send him packing and the world is safe until his ride comes back around. If he doesn't? Everyone on Earth dies. Bummer.
Luckily for Jake, he has a solid team of fighters made up of Jaa, Frank Grillo, & Juju Chan by his side, all of whom perform their respective ass-kicking tasks dutifully, even if DP Gerardo Medrazo can't quite seem to make any of the action make any sense. And then there is Cage, playing Wylie, a grizzled veteran of the alien's sexennial royal rumble, sort of a cross between Kurtz and John Rambo, the 2008 version, who has gone enough rounds with Brax to dump all kinds of exposition on the team just when they need it. Though he doesn't go Full-Cage Rage, even Cage at about 60% is enough to out act everyone else on this set and bring a little bit of drama to an otherwise exhausting experience.
You've got to give Logothetis credit, if you're looking for an action movie, Jiu Jitsu delivers in spades, it just doesn't do it very artfully, or really deliver anything else that makes movies memorable, like story, emotion, or technical competence. The action scenes are so incredibly methed out that the make Crank look like Béla Tarr by comparison, which makes the geography and logic of the fights almost impossible to track. And I haven't even mentioned the design of Brax, who seems to be wrapped amorphous head-to-toe in alien bondage gear with a very poorly rendered CG cloud for a face, which only manages to reinforce the slightly out of date video game feel of the film.
Cage does what he can to elevate the material, but he is given damn near nothing to work with, and when he is allowed to bloom, it's too little too late. Predator crossed with Bloodsport and a splash of Highlander is definitely a concept I can get behind, it's just a bummer that it turned out like this. Jiu Jitsu is an Adderall addled mess of a film that attempts to scratch a gonzo action itch that would be better served by hitting up a playlist of stunt demo reels on YouTube.
- Dimitri Logothetis
- Dimitri Logothetis (Writer)
- Jim McGrath (Writer)
- Nicolas Cage
- Marie Avgeropoulos
- Frank Grillo
- Tony Jaa