The trailer for Jiu Jitsu hypes Dimitri Logothetis as the director of Kickboxer: Retaliation. But to me, Logothetis’ claim to fame is directing Slaughterhouse Rock, a goofy 80s horror-comedy that featured one-hit-wonder Toni Basil (you do remember “Mickey” don’t you?).
More recently though he’s been busy producing and directing variations on the fight to the death martial arts tournament theme. There’s been the Kickboxer reboot and its sequels, Wings of the Dragon and now Jiu Jitsu which ups the stakes as the fate of the world rests on a contest between man and alien.
The film opens with a man (Alain Moussi, Kill Order, The Day) running through the forest dodging what looks like frisbees with blades on them. With no options left he dives off a cliff into the ocean. Found floating in the sea by a fisherman, he’s dropped off at a nearby US Army base. He’s alive but with no memory of who he is or what happened.
The army barely has a chance to try to find out who he is before he decides to break out. And escape with a bit of help from Kueng (Tony Jaa, Triple Threat, Skin Trade). We find out his name is Jake. And he’s part of a group that includes Kueng, Harrigan (Frank Grillo, Paradise Highway, Shattered), and Carmen (Juju Chan, Palace of the Damned, Savage Dog). They’re here to fight an alien Brax (Ryan Tarran, Bloody Hell) who appears every six years looking for a fight with the best Earth has to offer.
The film’s pre-release hype centered around Nicholas Cage (Willy’s Wonderland, Color Out of Space) but all he has is an extended cameo, (big surprise), as Wylie, a batshit insane hermit who makes hats out of newspapers and knows way too much about the alien. Cage is amusingly over the top, though in several scenes it’s obviously not him but a stand-in. And pairing him with Moussi just points up how far the latter has to go before his acting matches his fighting skills. He has however noticeably improved since Kickboxer: Vengeance.
Smartly Logothetis had Brax played by a man in a suit. It adds a lot to the fight scenes between him and our heroes. CGI is used for some of the shots of the alien in its invisibility cloak, but that’s it. Apart from that cloak Brax also has infrared vision and an assortment of high and low tech weapons. The result feels like a Predator clone as he stalks the group in the jungle before becoming Mortal Kombat in the final confrontation.
If this sounds like the makings of a fun film you’re right. Jiu Jitsu does have all the makings of a fun film. Unfortunately, it wastes a lot of their potential due to some very questionable decisions about how to shoot most of the action scenes. Rather than let the talented cast of action veterans do their thing and just film it, Logothetis uses all manner of camera trickery. Speeded-up scenes, slow motion, and extended point-of-view sequences all come into play for no apparent reason.
Used sparingly, speeded up and slow motion can add to a scene or help hide flaws in a poorly shot one. Given the talent involved here includes action director/stunt coordinator Supoj Khaowwong (Rambo, Hard Target 2) there shouldn’t have been any flaws to hide. The constant use of slow-motion just robs the fight scenes of their impact. The point-of-view footage is just annoying, especially as Moussi randomly pops back out in front of the camera several times during the sequence.
Logothetis and co-writer Jim McGrath originally wrote Jiu Jitsu as a graphic novel, several panels of which are used as transitions in the film. And that’s the effect they were obviously going for with the film. It’s too bad they decided to get too fancy with what should have been a natural setup.
The Avenue Entertainment will release Jiu Jitsu on November 20th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details.