Describing a film by simply giving an example of it as one particular movie “meeting” another has becoming the easiest and quickest way to explain the premise of a production that’s deliberately skews into the weird. Saying that Brightburn is Superman meets The Omen is one such example and 28 Days Later meets Under Siege 2 is an indelicate, but oddly accurate way to describe Train To Busan – but the main thing about any of these examples is that the fusing of these concepts usually results in a third, orginal film that usually stands on their own regardless of the eventual quality of this cinematic marriage. This brings us to Jiu Jitsu, a sci-fi actioner that’s the latest result of the way I assume Nicolas Cage chooses all of his film roles these days – bobbing for apples that have the script’s name attached to it while wearing a blindfold.
After fleeing an unseen, inhuman assailant in the jungles of Burma, a mysterious fighter named Jake becomes even more mysterious after a bump on the noggin renders his memory a no go area. Aggressively questioned by impatient troops who are in the area due to reports of weird radiation leaks, Jake is eventually sprung by another martial artist who in turn leads to him meeting Wylie, a whacked out, washed up swordsman who introduces him to his forgotten destiny. It seems that an alien called Brax traveled to earth many years ago looking for a worthy battle and taught mankind the Jiu Jitsu skills needed to defeat him (which is nice), ever since then he returns every six years to chance his arm against whatever group of nine fighters have been assembled to face him and so far he’s been thwarted – but if he or any of his kind were to win it would mean mankind would be destroyed; which is kind of fucking unfair when you think about it. Finally reuniting with his fellow warriors, problems arise when Harrigen, the gruff leader of the group, reveals that the plan they were supppsed to be following was Jake’s who obviously now has no fucking clue as to what it was (sticking in an e-mail or on a post-it didn’t occur to him apparently).
As the group girds themselves to trade hands with a foe far more advanced than they are – somehow a cloaking device, a healing factor and the ability to shoot shurikens out of your wrists isn’t classed as cheating on Brax’s world – they have no choice but to put their faith in a man who’s head is emptier than a toilet on the Marie Celeste and fight for our world the only way they know how… BY FIGHTING!
To use the “meets” template to describe Jiu Jitsu as Predator meets Mortal Kombat is slightly unfair; mostly because this proposed union that has undoubtedly stirred a maelstrom of excitement in your little geek belly turns out to be such a let down it turns those hopeful gastric-butterflies into bitter stomach acid, or maybe even an ulcer -however, it is also entirely accurate to a fault. Less a nod or a homage, Jiu Jitsu opts to steal from the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic wholesale and instead of borrowing a few of it’s quirks or details it instead boots in it’s door, wraps it’s family up in gaffer tape and empties out the entire house in order to resell everything on the black market. It’s actually almost insulting – Brax the alien may look like a dollar store version of the robot from Neflix’s Lost In Space reboot but everything else he does is so annoyingly similar to his deadlocked, extra terrestrial inspiration that he’s less a character and more a cinematic example of first degree identity theft. He cloaks like the Predator, he leaps from the trees like the Predator, his costume shoots out steam, his eyes become visible for dramatic effect, he shoots killer discs at people, he has very familiar hear vision…
The painfully obvious pillaging of one of cinema’s coolest alien sociopaths wouldn’t be quite so bad if the film he’s in had more artistic merit, but by far the most impressive thing director Dimitri Logothetis (Kickboxer: Retaliation) has achieved is that he’s somehow made a boring movie despite having a cast that contains Nicolas Cage, Frank Grillo and Tony Jaa. Surely the presence of cinema’s greatest living maniac, the most charismatic tough guy around and a dude who once used a fighting style in a movie that utilized a fucking elephant should guarantee that making a dull film would be an impossible task of godlike proportions – but somehow Logothetis pulls it off.
The first problem is that bafflingly none of this trinity of awesome actually ends up being the lead and instead our hero is portrayed by Alain Moussi, a man fully adept at pulling off some sick bone breaking moves but who also has the emotional acting range of a spilt bowl of Rice Krispies. Worse yet, the agonisingly leaden plot desides to Jason Bourne him mercilessly with amnesia and the double team of next to no acting skills and no discernable character traits means the film is being carried mostly by a man who can kick higher than his head but who can’t seem to form a single, recognizable facial expression.
But surely the action’s great right? Well… not really. I mean it’s certainly competent enough but the director seems to want to admirably push himself by slinging in some truly ambitious camera work to boot – however it only serves to muddle up the fight choreography with an early scene (that obviously has it’s eye of trying to top all those long-take action sequences that are happening recently) having the camera go repeatedly go from third to first person and back again that only confuses you into wondering why the cameraman has inexplicably decided to join in with the fighting.
However, in the noticably sparse plus column, Cage is predictably good value for money and his rebirth as an unapologetic B-movie superstar means he embraces his role with far more vigor and enthusiasm than it blatantly deserves. He’s certainly more switched on than Frank Grillo who has nothing more to do than bark random orders with all the passion of someone who’s only taken the role as a favour. Similarly action dynamo Tony Jaa has either lost a step or two since the days of Ong-Bak or the complicated set ups for the fight sequences means that he’s had to slow his role in order for the camera to keep up with his brutal elbows and knees; either way, the man is fighting like he’s jet lagged or something – which is still admittedly a billion times better than I could do considering I groan like a pregnant elephant seal when I have to stand up.
For what should have been an open goal of a cult classic, the lack of budget and the complete absence of anything approaching an original idea blocks any enjoyment the smashing cast should have brought to the table and instead of a knockout blow, Jiu Jitsu simply ends up being a kick in the teeth.