By: John M Jerva
REVIEW: Jiu Jitsu
STARRING: Alain Moussi, Tony Jaa, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, Rick Yune, Marie Avgeropoulos and Nicolas Cage
DIRECTED BY: Dimitri Logothetis
“Every six years, an ancient order of expert Jiu Jitsu fighters faces a vicious alien in a battle to protect Earth. For thousands of years, the fighters that protect Earth have played by the rules…until now. When celebrated war hero Jake Barnes (Moussi) is defeated by Brax, the Alien invader, the future of humanity hangs in the balance. Injured and suffering from amnesia, Jake is rescued by Wylie (Cage), Keung (Jaa), Harrigan (Grillo) and his team of fellow Jiu Jitsu fighters. They must help Jake to regain his strength in order to band together and defeat Brax in an epic battle that will once again determine the fate of mankind.“
THE REVIEW: It’s no lie that this year has truly been one of the toughest yet and when things get rough, we branch out to find ways to entertain ourselves and forget the problems of the world. One big way to divert our attention is by watching movies. It’s one of the best ways to transport ourselves somewhere else and for ninety minutes plus, we can be entertained and forget just for a little while that the real world doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, this year, movies have been one of the hardest things to come by as everyday saw yet another big budget film delayed until next year or indefinitely as the pandemic has run rampant all over forcing cinemas and other venues to close. In these uncertain times, indie films and streaming has been the only way to satisfy our cravings and even though we have still had some great, lesser known movies come out, we still have been waiting for that one film to come that would truly bust through the door and say “hey! We’re here to kick some ass!”
With that I give you the newest release this weekend in the form of Jiu Jitsu which hails from the Star and director of the Kickboxer reboot franchise. Rising action star Alain Moussi and filmmaker Dimitri Logothetis decided to put the third installment of that series on hold to make this movie which is a crazy blend of sci-fi, action and bone crunching martial arts action that is actually based on a comic book created by Logothetis. To make things even better, they have assembled a top tier cast of action professionals to deliver the product. Oh, did I forget to mention that it stars the one and only Nicolas Cage?!
First things first, let’s talk about the plot and while it isn’t anything deeply imaginative, it definitely serves its purpose and gives the film a reason to unleash its action pros upon an audience desperately starving for their next action fix. Think of the film as a cross between Predator and Mortal Kombat and it unapologetically borrows from all types of films but that’s OK as it’s all about the stunts and fisticuffs here.
It seems that every six years, a comet passes through which opens up a portal that unleashes a rather nasty alien into our world who is looking to take on our six best fighters in a bone smashing battle with the world hanging in the balance. Basically if we lose or don’t fight, very bad things are going to happen to the human race. In 2020, I would assume that this would be a true to life story with all that we have endured so far.
Unfortunately for us, one of the chosen fighters named Jake (Moussi) has developed amnesia and wants nothing to do with the intergalactic Battle Royale and this bodes very badly for the world. Jake is subsequently captured by the US military and interrogated for info on exactly what the hell is going on. Before any of that can happen, the alien, named Brax, attacks and the film launches into one long fight sequence where the rest of elite fighters show up to take on Brax and to also steer Jake in the right direction as he pretty much turns out to be The One to end it all.
The biggest selling point of Jiu Jitsu is the all-star cast of action cinema professionals who have assembled here to give us one huge dose of martial arts mayhem. The cast includes Frank Grillo as Harriman, JuJu Chan as Carmen, Kueng, international action maestro Tony Jaa as Keung and last but certainly not least Nicolas Cage as Wylie who is best described as…well Nicolas Cage playing himself. We also have Rick Yune from The Fast and the Furious and Olympus has Fallen as Captain Sand and the bad ass Marrese Crump as Forbes. This is a pretty eclectic mix of fight pros here and for the most part, they all get their chance to shine in some way, shape or form.
The action, after a certain point, is virtually non stop and fans will certainly get their fix as Logothetis and company deliver the goods in some pretty stand out fight sequences. The highlight of the film comes when Jaa’s Keung erupts on screen to break Jake out of the military stronghold and he certainly gives us his trademark action as he defies gravity as usual. For one thing, Jaa really does make an entrance. Moussi flows in and out of the scene and the two switch off like a dream tag team as the sequence is handled in a one take, or oner, to really show us what these men can do. I was afraid that Jaa would only show up for a short time but was pleasantly surprised to see that his role is big and he is used to his fullest potential.
The rest of the cast all get their chance to take on Brax and other standout sequences come from Chan and Crump who really get nice scenes to strut their stuff. Crump, for one, is an exceptional fighter and he should definitely be a bigger star in the genre as he has the looks, moves and bravado to carry his own film.
The action and special effects are quite ambitious and for a smaller budgeted movie and the filmmakers really should be commended for the scope of what we get as a final result. There is a lot of slo-mo that is used in the set pieces and normally that wouldn’t be a good thing but here it makes the sequences pop with each and every hand to hand altercation. When you have this amount of talent in one film, it accentuates the mayhem on screen.
Cage is probably the biggest selling point of the film and while he isn’t the big, box office draw he once was back in the 90’s, he certainly still gives it his all in any performance and his quirky personality is perfect for this type of film. Cage pretty much just jumps right in and says buckle up everybody because this is going to be one wild ride. The plot for the most part is over the top but Cage looks it square in the face and doesn’t blink. He also gets a pretty solid match in the film and even though his stunt double pops up every so often, he still impresses with the moves he displays on camera. Without spoiling anything, I will say that his character of Wylie plays a very big part of the movie but you’ll just have to watch and see in that regard.
Now, the movie isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination and some of the negatives are that there really isn’t any character development at all. It’s pretty straight forward and what you see is what you get with the cast. There is no real explanation as to why this happens and the military’s involvement is strangely left on the back burner.
The real crime though is that the great Frank Grillo is criminally underused and I would chalk it up to the fact that he probably was only available for a short period of time. The fight scene he has with Brax is fast and he doesn’t get much of a chance to leave an impression. Fans of the actor will most likely be disappointed as well with Rick Yune who has even less screen time and besides one awesome sequence of him unloading with an M-60 machine gun, he is given even less to do. That’s the price that is paid when you have a large ensemble cast.
The final matchup between Jake and Brax is not as epic as it could have been either and if you’ve seen the full throttle finales of the Kickboxer films with Moussi then this showdown will surely be a little less extraordinary as it is a little too short. There are some bright spots in the fight but all in all, I wanted more and more money shots to go with it. Moussi does an outstanding job as always in the physical aspect of the role and he does get to execute some of his extreme signature moves which will delight the fans. Although it doesn’t reach the ultimate pinnacle of past action finales, it still drives it home with some in your face martial arts moves.
Make no mistake, the positives ultimately outweigh the negatives here and in a year when action cinema has suffered, Jiu Jitsu has arrived to fill the void and give the fans a kick ass throwback style film with cool fight sequences and Nicolas Cage. What more could you want? Moussi, Logothetis and company have delivered a thrill packed martial arts sci-fi flick which will give the audience a much needed jolt of adrenaline and feed their need for bone crunching entertainment. The cast is a veritable martial arts Expendables-esque dream team and they turn it up for the entire running time. Turn your brain off at the door and just enjoy the ride and watch some of the finest on screen fighters do what they do best. For a movie like this, that’s all anyone could ask for.
VERDICT: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars
ACTION-FLIX APPROVED! In a year where action fans are starving for their next action fix…Jiu Jitsu has arrived!
Jiu Jitsu is now playing in select cinemas and Digital!