Not since the 90s have I been keen to watch a movie starring Nicolas Cage. That is until I saw the trailer for Jiu Jitsu – a movie about a group of Jiu Jitsu fighters who must save the world by fighting an alien warrior who comes to our planet every six years to engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat with nine human warriors with terrible dress sense.
Sure, it was silly and over-the-top. Yes, the movie title could be better. Of course it’s going to be B-grade. I know Nicolas Cage has been in plenty of crap lately but did I mention both Tony Jaa and Frank Grillo are in it too? And I’m totally aware it’s ripping off Predator and Mortal Kombat. I acknowledge all these warning signs yet the trailer still won me over because it looked like all these dodgy elements would combine to create a fun, cheesy, martial arts masterpiece that would transport me back to when I was a teenager. Boy was I wrong.
We are introduced to Jake (Alain Moussi) as he escapes an endless, deadly barrage of alien ninja stars from a technologically advanced adversary with suspiciously similar traits to the aliens from the Predator franchise. While he may have escaped this initial life threatening encounter, it is not without its cost – a blow to the head results in him getting amnesia. After being rescued by Wylie (Nicolas Cage) and stitched up by the local villagers, Jack soon finds himself in the hands of Myra (Marie Avgeropoulos), an army *cough* intelligence officer (it’s legit, it’s written on her costume, uniform) whose “interrogation” of her prisoner is more painful for the audience than our hero.
When Jack’s buddy Kueng (Tony Jaa) eventually retrieves him from the laughable excuse for military personnel who are worse shots than Imperial Stormtroopers, we soon learn that Jack is part of a nine member group of elite Jiu Jitsu warriors who are going to save the world by fighting the alien creature known as Brax (Ryan Tarran). Queue the line from Mortal Kombat: a handful of people on a leaky boat are going to save the world? Exactly.
How will our embarrassingly dressed heroes do this? For starters, they will speak vaguely to Jack about a “plan” they know he doesn’t remember (of course, the amnesia), and then make the most logical choice to not to remind him of said plan. It’s best to keep him in the dark apparently. Then they carry out the plan of just walking around aimlessly in the open wilderness as they get picked off one at a time until someone hopefully beats Brax. That’s one way of doing it I guess when the fate of the world rests on your shoulders.
To be fair, Nicolas Cage is actually pretty cool in this terrible, terrible movie. He knows he’s in a dumb film but he’s still bringing that Nicolas Cage charm and energy and I loved every scene he was in. He’s not the hero of the film (I’ll get to that guy in a second), but by gosh, he was MY hero – lifting my spirits when the dialogue was killing my soul and just when I thought I couldn’t watch another minute of this rubbish, Cage was there to remind me why I gave this movie a chance – they’ve given him a sword and a bandana and he goes toe to toe with a Predator ripoff.
I think it’s fair to say Nicolas Cage was the light in the dark of a movie with no soul, but in the end even he wasn’t enough to save it.
Alain Moussi…yikes. You’d get more life and expression from a mannequin. Why the filmmakers thought this guy would be a great leading man baffles me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more wooden performance in an actor. Sure, he has the physique to be an action star and he’s got the martial arts skills to go with it, but there’s nothing there. No screen presence, no acting ability and when the film ends, no fight sequence that would make up for all his deficiencies. This guy makes Jai Courtney look like Gary Oldman and I’m still mad at Jai for ruining the Die Hard and Terminator franchises.
When I looked up who directed Jiu Jitsu, I was surprised to find that Dimitri Logothetis (Kickboxer: Retaliation, Wings of the Dragon) is actually a seasoned film and TV director with over 30 years experience. Although you wouldn’t believe it after watching Jiu Jitsu. The story he wrote with Jim McGrath is nonsensical. The dialogue is laughable and embarrassing. It all just feels very juvenile like a kid wrote it.
To add insult to injury, the action isn’t even that good. I can forgive a bad story if the action makes up for it however it fails in that department too – and this is an action movie. While there’s no questioning the martial arts abilities of key actors, the fight choreography and jarring camerawork makes it hard to suspend disbelief in any capacity. Weapons look like props. Supposedly trained soldiers supporting an army intelligence led mission armed with fully automatic weapons repeatedly miss shooting targets that are 10 feet away (or less) in open spaces. It’s just embarrassing to the genre.
I’m a big fan of B-grade movies and there are plenty of “bad” movies that are still entertaining to watch. Jiu Jitsu is not one of them. I wanted to like it because I love the martial arts genre and I appreciate dodgy films. In addition to being a fan of 90s-era Nicolas Cage, I’m also a fan of Tony Jaa’s early films so surely this Frankenstein action / sci-fi mashup would work and I was very hopeful at the start. But it didn’t work. Far from it. Poor production value, embarrassing performances and a woeful script make this a cringeworthy experience befitting of what 2020 has dealt the world so far.