Review: Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)


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Starring Alain Moussi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dave Bautista, Darren Shahlavi, Gina Carano, Georges St. Pierre, TJ Storm, Sara Malakul Lane

Fight Choreography by Larnell Stovall

Directed by John Stockwell

This is a particularly difficult film to attempt to review objectively; it’s a remake of the original, with many of the story beats the same, and still stars the main actor now in a supporting role, plus has one of the cheesiest/best dance scenes in the history of ever. Plus, I really liked the original, if for nostalgia’s sake.

Alain Moussi now takes over the role of Kurt Sloane, who serves as a fight assistant to his successful karate champion brother Eric Sloane (Shahlavi). When mysterious fight promoter Marcia offers Eric a lot of money and the chance to face Tong Po (Bautista), a Kickboxing Muay Thai champion, Eric accepts, much to the dismay of Kurt. Eric goes to Thailand, and Kurt eventually follows, only to see his brother killed in the ring by Tong Po. Seeking revenge, Kurt tries to murder Tong Po, but with the help of a local cop (Lane) he hides at the home of Eric’s trainer, Master Durand (JCVD). There Kurt learns how to kick a ton of ass and finally is good enough to challenge Tong Po to a duel to avenge his brother…

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The film pretty much follows many of the beats of the original film, except for the beginning, which I won’t spoil here except to say that we first meet Kurt Sloane in a very dark place. There is a little time jumping, and the story doesn’t really allow me to connect to Kurt’s pain over his brother’s death, because their relationship isn’t touched on very much. Also a little baffling was the romance (sex) Kurt has with Liu, the Thai cop. It seems to just pop out of bloody nowhere, and there is no real resolution to it. Alain Moussi does a good job of playing Kurt Sloane, but doesn’t quite have the charisma that JCVD had in the same role. Speaking of which, JCVD was great every time he was onscreen, and in fact so much so I wish Master Durand was simply THE Kurt Sloane retired to train Kickboxers. JCVD even gets into a few scraps that show he’s still got it, but that’s no real surprise. I wonder now if JCVD being in the film hurts it rather than helps it.

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The late, great Darren Shahlavi, in his final role, is far too underutilized as Eric Sloane. I wish the film had not strayed from the original and kept Eric alive, which would have meant seeing a lot more of Darren. Gina Carano is in the film but is a complete waste. Her character could have been played by anyone. Sorry, if I see a prime Gina Carano in the credits of a film, I damn well expect to see her kick someone’s ass. The same can be said for Georges St. Pierre, who does have a few fight scenes, but there is one glaring edit of one of his fights— or some incident—that left me baffled as the film makes no explanation as to how he suddenly has  a broken arm after seeing him fairly healthy not many scenes before. Dave Bautista is okay as a much more menacing and intelligent Tong Po, but in the end he’s nothing more than a standard cookie-cutter baddie. Sara Malakul Lane is a stunningly beautiful woman, but her character doesn’t bring much to the story, except to slow things down too much with a useless side story.

The place where Kickboxer: Vengeance truly surpasses the original are the fight scenes, which many, and well shot and edited, and really gives Alain Moussi a chance to shine, but in the wake of Muay Thai films like Ong Bak or The Protector, some of it feels a little derivative. The best fight in the film, to me, is the fight between JCVD and Moussi. JCVD has better choreography here than I’ve ever seen this side of No Retreat, No Surrender.

Extra Bits:

The film was dedicated to Darren Shahlavi, and I was really happy to see they did that.

Yes, we are treated to JCVD’s original bar dance again, along with a side by side of Alain trying the same thing during the closing credits. Sorry, but JCVD STILL wins that dance-off, Alain!

What else did this film need? Stan Bush. No, really. Stan Bush for the win.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6.5

Kickboxer: Vengeance has its moments, but reminds me too much of the original, but JCVD shines in a limited role. Alain Moussi grew on me as the film went on. Any chance we see Sasha Mitchell in Kickboxer: Retaliation? I hope so.

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