One year after the events of “Kickboxer: Vengeance”, Kurt Sloan has vowed never to return to Thailand. However, while gearing up for a MMA title shot, he finds himself sedated and forced back into Thailand, this time in prison. He is there because the ones responsible want him to face a 6’8″ 400 lbs. beast named Mongkut and in return for the fight, Kurt will get two million dollars and his freedom back. Kurt at first refuses, in which a bounty is placed on his head as a way to force him to face Mongkut. Kurt soon learns he will have no other choice and will undergo his most rigorous training yet under some unexpected mentors in order to face Mongkut in hopes to regain his freedom.
Directors: Dimitri Logothetis
Writers: Dimitri Logothetis, Jim McGrath
Starring: Alain Moussi, Sara Malakul Lane, Christopher Lambert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mike Tyson, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson
Kickboxer: Retaliation is the sequel to the 2016 reboot of the Kickboxer franchise originally made famous by Jean-Claude Van Damme in 1989. This entry has martial arts fighter Kurt Sloane (stuntman Alain Moussi, Kickboxer: Vengeance and Kill Order 2017) being kidnapped by corrupt fight promoter Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert, Highlander 1986 and Mortal Kombat 1995). Moore brings Sloane back to Thailand, the location of the first film, where he’s imprisoned until he agrees to fight ‘roided up superman Mongkut (real-life strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Game of Thrones series 2014).
The film features several promising cameos, but also stumbles on a series of missteps that will forever relegate it to bargain-bin status. Much like the film’s immediate predecessor, Kickboxer: Vengeance, the story is not only predictable, but utterly bare-bones. Sloane promises his wife Liu, played by model and actress Sara Malakul Lane (Sharktopus, Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill), that he’ll never leave her, and then immediately gets whisked away to Thailand. There he refuses an offer to fight for his freedom, and is trained in prison by Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bloodsport 1988) and Briggs, played by disgraced heavy-weight champion Mike Tyson. As an aside, can we stop casting convicted rapists in movies? There are plenty of actors more deserving and capable of the spotlight than Tyson, who’s negligible acting skill is exceeded in trying to hide his lisp.
Once trained, Sloane again refuses to fight until man-mountain Mongkut puts Liu into a coma, after which the fight is on. In other words, guy won’t fight, guy’s girl is hurt, guy will fight. Simple as that, yet the film’s two-hour runtime is almost entirely consumed by this by-the-numbers setup. What remains is largely low angle cinematography, forced slow-mo, and discontinuity.
The fight choreography is decent, and the extended fight shots are what provides any value to the film. This applies particularly to the first prison fight, which makes the homosexual tension of Top Gun’s volleyball scene seem downright low key in comparison. Numbing the excitement, however, is Sloane’s invincibility in almost all cases barring the final fight. In place of Bloodsport’s brutal back and forth of bloody blows, Kickboxer: Retaliation prefers to keep Moussi’s face pretty and unmarred, making even the action seem inconsequential most of the time.
The discontinuity mentioned comes primarily from the opening scene, a fight on a train following an odd salsa dance that had me wondering if I was watching the wrong film. The whole scene is clearly tacked on, and cut so poorly that I spent the first half of the film trying to figure out if it was a flashback or flashforward, of which it was apparently neither. Also bizarre was the section of the fight taking place on the moving train’s roof, where raindrops fell straight down on the character’s heads, revealing that they might as well have been fighting in a CVS parking lot for all the motion going on.
Still, despite the insanely drawn-out plot and confusing editing, the most off-putting moment in the film comes during the climactic battle between Sloane and Mongkut. In a tone-deaf rip-off of Rocky IV, the Thailand audience begins chanting what translates to “White Warrior!”, which is repeatedly flashed across the screen. This is unsettling enough to see blazing across your television screen like a white supremacist rallying cry, but it’s also confusing, as both characters fighting are Caucasian. Perhaps this is a hold over from a previous stage in the film’s development wherein Mongkut was expected to be another ethnicity, but even so, you’d think someone along the line would say “Wait, isn’t Björnsson super-Nordic?”
Ultimately, Kickboxer: Retaliation is a film that may appease those action fans who either fast-forward to the fight scenes or like to multitask, the latter allowing other activities to take their attention during the film’s padding. Other viewers would be better off watching the original 1989 film, or Van Damme’s superior sibling-film Bloodsport.