Fantasia Fest Review: KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE Is Hilarious Nonsense

Come for Van Damme, stay for the cheese.

There’s a mindset with some DTV action fans that these films have value because they harken back to some kind of action movie ideal that has been scarce since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Kickboxer: Vengeance recreates the feel of those movies with a rare amount of accuracy. In doing so, it serves as a reminder that most of those movies were horrible, cheesy nightmares.

But it is also has the modern benefit of being super fun while doing so. Kickboxer: Vengeance is not at all a good movie. It is, however, a very good bad movie, filled with ridiculous moments that blur the line between misguided ineptitude and self-awareness. I’m inclined to believe the movie is hilarious on accident, but some bits are SO egregiously goofy it’s hard to believe they weren’t orchestrated.

Sort of like the original, Kickboxer: Vengeance revolves around Kurt Sloane, a tough guy (Alain Moussi) who has to get training from another tough guy (Jean-Claude Van Damme) in order to fight the really big tough guy (Dave Bautista) who killed his tough guy brother (Darren Shahlavi). Along the way, he has sex with a woefully inept cop (Sara Malakul Lane) and pushes an endlessly smirking Gina Carano against a wall. Also he kinda sorta becomes best friends with a hilariously drunk fighter played by George St-Pierre.

The cast offers a mixed variety of bad performances. Alain Moussi is a blank charisma vacuum as the lead. Even when fighting, he’s too wooden and focused on technique to look natural. The film gives him many opportunities for big money shots, but they all look like padding for some dude’s demo reel. Gina Carano does not rise above already established Gina Carano levels, and the mostly silent Dave Bautista looks like he knows he made a huge mistake.

And then there’s Jean-Claude Van Damme, the only real reason to see this film. As Sloane’s reluctant trainer, and also what appears to be a reluctant actor in general, Van Damme embraces his inner weirdness here and works on a level that makes little sense yet is a joy to behold. He isn’t mugging as in his television commercials or Welcome to the Jungle. Instead he comes off as extremely bored and apathetic, shrugging through a movie that totally deserves it, as if he’s in the theater making fun of it right along with us. He looks good, his fights are great, but his secret weapon is the bald extent to which he does not give a shit. You don’t even get to see his eyes in the film. When JCVD wants to give you a window to his soul, he just takes off his hat.

Kickboxer’s other benefit is an onslaught of fights. Some are better than others, but there is almost no downtime in the film. Often when two people are about to have a conversation, they just fight instead. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film so eager to get rid of dialog.

Whatever this film’s intentions, I had the benefit of watching it in a theater filled with drunken French Canadians, and for us there was no confusion as to whether or not we were watching a comedy. It probably doesn’t play quite as well on a computer screen at home, but if you’re interested in watching JCVD turn in some truly hilarious late-era work, I highly recommend you give this one a shot.