Alain Moussi returns in chapter two of the reboot of the franchise that cemented Jean-Claude Van Damme’s fame.
Some people just won’t take “no” for an answer when they’ve invited you to participate in an old-fashioned fight to the death. In Dimitri Logothetis’ Kickboxer: Retaliation, the sequel to 2016’s reboot of the franchise that cemented Jean-Claude Van Damme’s stardom, Christopher Lambert’s villain wants our hero to fight so badly he’ll imprison him, kidnap his girlfriend and even offer up a spare bedroom in his vast palace. The dude desperately needs to see Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) get his head split, but he wants to be sporting about it. A pulpy and fun fight flick that is better in some respects than it needs to be, Retaliation may not do for Moussi what the original Kickboxer did for Van Damme, but it won’t send fans home disappointed.
The last picture ended with Kurt Sloane killing the fighter who killed his brother (it was called Kickboxer: Vengeance, after all) then leaving for the U.S. with new girlfriend Liu (Sara Malakul Lane). Now, as the title Retaliation might suggest, it’s time to pay the piper. Marshals come to interrogate Kurt about the killing, but wait — those aren’t marshals, they’re henchmen of Lambert’s Thomas Moore, sent to bring Kurt back to Thailand and throw him in a jail near Bangkok.
Brought before Moore, who insists he must enter another death match to pay for what he has done (??), Kurt is appropriately defiant, while Lambert does an enjoyable bargain-basement Christoph Waltz impression: “One more fight to the death — that’s all I’m asking!” He’s even offering a million dollars for Kurt’s trouble, provided he survives. But Kurt prefers to go back to jail.
There, things are unfriendly. When a trio of inmates surrounds Kurt with malice in their eyes, our hero shouts to someone, “you better call the prison doc” before predicting the exact injuries the doctor should expect to be treating. The ensuing action, set to a tune aping Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” leaves the doctor with many more patients than predicted.
Here and elsewhere, Gerardo Madrazo’s cinematography is much more stylish than moviegoers may expect. But the pic’s stylishness sometimes comes at the expense of fight-scene excitement: Though few will doubt what they’re seeing, too many close-ups make the mayhem feel less real, and frequent use of slow motion limits an overall sequence’s visceral kick. Perhaps the filmmakers decided the choreography of long scenes was too obvious when played at regular speed.
Eventually coerced to accept Moore’s challenge and fight a nearly seven-foot tall “bioengineered marvel” called Mongkut (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), Kurt must begin a specialized training regimen. Which means it’s time not only for the return of Van Damme’s wry Master Durand — who has recently been blinded by Moore, giving him an excuse to never remove those shades he’s so fond of — but a fellow inmate, Briggs, played by Mike Tyson.
While Briggs works on brute force and similar straightforward technique, Durand becomes a chopsocky Obi-Wan Kenobi, blindfolding Kurt and teaching him to feel his opponent’s movements before they come. (In blue-tinted visions, Durand of course senses enough to outfight the sighted people around him.)
Logothetis contrives to squeeze a set piece or two in before the main event — one, featuring two lingerie-clad fighters in a forest of crystal bamboo, then moving into a hall of mirrors, is goofy fun even if its Lady From Shanghai reference invites unflattering comparisons.
When Kurt finally faces Mongkut in what we’re told is “the original Muay Thai temple,” viewers will get their money’s worth. Roughly half an hour long, this last bout features plenty of David/Goliath action (camerawork is more sensitive here) and a couple of narrative fakeouts. Moussi allows Kurt to look genuinely afraid, which helps, and points toward a possible Rocky-style defeat. Whether he wins or loses here, rest assured that Kurt is already scheduled to appear in the portentously named Kickboxer: Armageddon.
Production company: Our House Films
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Alain Moussi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Christopher Lambert, Sara Malakul Lane, Ronaldinho, Mike Tyson
Director-screenwriter: Dimitri Logothetis
Producers: Robert Hickman, Dimitri Logothetis
Executive producers: Jeff Bowler, Nicholas Celozzi, Luke Daniels
Director of photography: Gerardo Madrazo
Production designer: Toey Jaruvaateekul
Costume designer: Terri Middleton
Editors: Christopher Robin Bell, Daniel McDonald
Composer: Adam Dorn
Casting director: Thitiya Thongbai
Rated R, 110 minutes