SUPER-KUMITE, ROUND 1, SECOND BOUT: AMERICAN KICKBOXERS VS. THE WOMEN
IMDb may list this Cannon production as AMERICAN KICKBOXER, but the DVD cover and more importantly the title screen call it AMERICAN KICKBOXER 1. So going by the DIE HARD 2 precedent that is the official title as far as I’m concerned. Part 1 is the story of B.J. Quinn (John Barett, GYMKATA), middleweight kickboxing champ with a 35-1 record. In the opening fight he takes on the young up and comer Chad Hunter (Keith Vitali, REVENGE OF THE NINJA) and wins with an allegedly accidental elbow. Because of B.J.’s arrogant talk on the way to the ring and the dishonorable means of victory I honestly thought this was the introduction of the bad guy. But I guess he’s supposed to be one of those lovable asshole characters, or possibly just a guy at a low point who needs redemption or whatever.
At an after party in the promoter’s backyard B.J. gets drunk and gets in the face of another fighter named Jacques Denard (Brad Morris, STEEL DAWN) for messing with his woman Carol (Terry Norton, THE SCORPION KING: RISE OF A WARRIOR). Some guys try to break it up, including this guy in the tux here:
who B.J. swats at, knocking him into a glass table. It’s a hilariously overblown scene of slow motion as B.J. realizes he’s hurt the guy. His slowed down cry of “Get a doctor for chrissakes!” echoes and weird, spacey keyboard sounds signify the importance of the event. B.J. knows he’s hit rock bottom when he’s in a hospital watching through a window as the poor guy dies.
Amazing trivia: the random dude who he knocks over and kills is Gavin Hood, the South African director who did TSOTSI, RENDITION, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE and the upcoming ENDER’S GAME. I had no idea he started out as a b-movie actor, and I’ll definitely be looking for him as “German Champion” when I get to KICKBOXER 5 one of these days.
This guy Denard is the villain of the piece, which is clear when he lies under oath to help get B.J. a prison sentence. When B.J. gets out a year later Denard is the champion and B.J. is legally barred from competing in any type of championship bout.
I suspect the name “Jacques Denard” is supposed to position him as kind of an evil Jean-Claude Van Damme. Or maybe it’s just supposed to make it clear that he’s a Foreign Kickboxer facing off against our American Kickboxer. Or maybe it’s both and it’s supposed to be saying if you assholes were true patriots you’d be watching an AMERICAN KICKBOXER instead of that Belgian from REGULAR KICKBOXER.
At any rate Denard is a funny villainous character who sports a short mohawk and intentionally ridiculous outfits: zebra thong over blue tights, fringe around the waist almost like a tutu, pink polka dotted numbers, bow tie with tank top, etc. In one scene he storms into a party he wasn’t invited to wearing a Streetcar Named Desire muscle shirt over tights. And he’s beatboxing.
His sexuality is up in the air. I wonder if all the pink and thongs are supposed to tell the audience “ha ha, this guy is gay,” or if he’s using it to colorfully psyche out his opponents? In one scene a reporter says “Yoo hoo, sailor!” to him, but there are no other direct homophobic comments. He does seem to make a move on B.J.’s woman, and also is being massaged by a woman in one locker room scene. So I lean toward the movie not meaning to depict him as actually being gay.
As much as I enjoy the ridiculous outfits my favorite Denard bit is when he tries to intimidate B.J. by suddenly running in and headbutting a locker closed. That one passed the “did I rewind it a bunch of times, and was it still funny?” test. He also laughs way too hard at his own joke, and gets less applause from the audience than both the ref and the judge.
So anyway, Denard will be competing in a newly announced tournament. “The reason for this press conference,” says the promoter, “is for you guys and the sports fans out there to announce an international kickboxin tournament. When I say ‘international,’ these boxers are comin from all over the world. They’re the best in the business.”
B.J. is legally barred from competing, but Chad, the guy he beat in the opening scene, asks him to be his trainer for the tournament. B.J. is very Clint-Eastwood-grouchy and they argue about their match and whether he could’ve won without the elbow. So you can see where this will go: they don’t get along, but as the ex-champ trains the new guy they start to bond, he thinks he’s gonna get revenge on Denard by proxy, having his protege beat him in the tournament. But there will be some injury or something and he’ll end up in the ring somehow and–
Actually, no. Instead he’s recruited to be a judge in the tournament (not sure why he’s allowed to judge and train a guy), there is a match and then the tournament is not mentioned again in the movie and I’m not sure why they brought it up in the first place.
B.J. and Chad get in an argument, and B.J. doesn’t even show up for Chad’s match against Denard. Little does Chad know that B.J. is watching the fight on TV, drink in hand, yelling advice to the screen, sincerely pulling for him. He didn’t abandon him, he’s just a troubled individual. So troubled that even after his jail time he gets in an actual fight with Denard at another after party thrown by the same guy. Chairs are thrown, people fall in the pool. This was a bad idea so he figures it’s time to drive far away and secretly live by himself in a rented beach cottage, leaving even his girlfriend behind, and do yoga on the beach and stuff.
But he forgot about the nearby Summit Club Summer School, where Chad teaches martial arts to little kids. They run into each other and enough time has passed that they’re pretty cool with each other and Chad convinces him to come in and impress the kids with his ex-championship. This is important for his self esteem but more crucial to his recovery is when Chad says, “You know, we never did finish our fight,” brings him to a mat where they spar by candlelight, like some kind of ritual. B.J. finally breaks down and admits he sees himself as a loser. Not great acting, but admirable emotional rawness for a movie of this type.
One thing I didn’t mention is this ridiculous character Willard (Ted Le Plat, AMERICAN NINJA 4), a local sports reporter. He always wears a baseball cap to show he’s a working man and he’s kind of an Owen Wilson type who’s constantly making smartass comments. During press conferences he repeatedly interrupts to insult Denard, making the other reporters laugh and putting the spotlight on himself at all times. He always has a big proud-of-himself grin because he knows he’s so clever and funny and he’s busting everybody’s balls and keepin em honest and sticking it to the man and all that. But his wisecracks are literally things that children say to each other on the playground, like when Denard flips him off and he says “What’s that, your IQ?” To put it in sports terms, he’s a comic relief air ball.
Despite being this obnoxious character there’s a scene where he’s at the newspaper office pleading with his editor for space to cover the B.J. Quinn story, arguing about what the readers want, what the sponsors will allow, and trying to expose that the sentencing was a set-up to keep B.J. from competing in a new league that started right after he went to jail. And the movie treats this all real seriously, like it’s ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN all the sudden. And then the movie doesn’t do anything with this conspiracy at all, it just forgets about it.
Ultimately it’s about B.J. not wanting to fight but Denard, through the medium of Willard, taunting him into a challenge match. Or “CHALLANGE FIGHT” as it’s spelled in one newspaper headline. There are a number of song montages as he gets back with his girl, accepts the challenge and runs on the beach alot.
This is a pretty crappy movie but it’s a nice take on the fight movie formula with some interesting tweaks, from the older-and-gruffer-than-usual hero to the weirdo villain. To be honest it has more unintentional laughs than purposeful awesomeness, but it’s not a total embarrassment or anything. I enjoyed it.
tournament specifics: standard professional kickboxing in ring with ref, judges, rounds. We don’t see it in detail though because this plotline is quickly abandoned.
training montage techniques: beach jogging, outdoor sparring, sprinting, weight lifting, home repairs, katas on a dock to the beat of the music on the soundtrack, jump roping, stretching on a beach, beach sparring with sunset.
tournament movie staples: crowd reactions that don’t look convincingly like they’re reacting to something that’s actually happening
fight choreographers: John Barrett, Keith Vitali
assistant fight choreographers: Brad Morris, Roger Yuan
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.