Jean-Claude Van Damme never appeared in any of the official sequels to Kickboxer, but he's back for the remake, albeit in the mentor role of an incongruously Belgian Muay Thai master living in Thailand. Still in fantastic shape and sporting a goofy hat and sunglasses, he's arguably a better (though not bigger) movie star now than he was in 1989. Unfortunately, he's not the lead: Taking over JCVD's role as aggrieved protagonist Kurt Sloane is an athletically gifted charisma void named Alain Moussi, who, like previous Van Damme pal Scott Adkins, seems to lack even the confidence to be a good-bad actor. Maybe it's enough that he can do awesome flips.
Directed, oddly enough, by Blue Crush's John Stockwell, this reboot smartly doesn't try to escalate the material to bigger and better status, keeping things small, scrappy and relying on the fighters to be the best special effects. For larger action scenes, Stockwell resorts to that annoying stutter-vision effect seen in Captain America: Civil War and the recent Fast and Furious flicks, which is usually used to cover for slow real-world choreography. Thanks to the casting of experienced combat athletes like Georges St-Pierre and Dave Bautista, however, the one-on-one battles still provide the impact you'd hope for. (Bautista's Tong Po doesn't look especially Thai … but the original film's villain was played by Moroccan-Belgian Michel Qissi, making the half-Filipino wrestler actually more Asian.)
A semi-sequel with Van Damme as an older Sloane (despite his off-camera death in part two) might have been preferable, but it's probably for the best that he doesn't risk hurting himself too badly. Maybe, like his onscreen mentor, Moussi can pick up the acting basics later.
John StockwellJean-Claude Van Damme, Gina Carano, David Bautista, Alain Moussi, Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Fabricio WerdumDimitri Logothetis, Jim McGrathDimitri Logothetis, Ted Field, Nicholas Celozzi, Allen Knudson, Samuel Corey TimpsonRLJ Entertainment
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