PLOT: Every six years, an alien warrior named Brax visits earth to challenge its best fighters in brutal hand-to-hand combat. If they refuse to fight, the world is doomed. Enter mankind’s best hope at defeating Brax, a fighter named Jake Barnes (Alain Moussi) who’s one of the chosen fighters deemed as earth’s champions, but there’s only one problem: he has no memory of his mission and worse, doesn’t believe he has what it takes to defeat the alien threat.
REVIEW: If JIU JITSU had been made in the nineties, it would have probably been really low budget and starred a DTV icon like Lorenzo Lamas or Mark Dacascos, or maybe even someone like Jeff Speakman. Had it been made in the eighties, we probably would have gotten the best possible version of the film as it would have no doubt been made by Cannon Films with guys like Michael Dudikoff or Sho Kosugi in the lead, or maybe – just maybe- if they were lucky JCVD or Chuck Norris. But, alas, JIU JITSU wasn’t made in either of those eras and quality-wise, falls somewhere in between the high camp but endearing flicks of the Cannon era and the mostly disposable DTV fight flicks of the nineties.
Either way though, you would have never gotten an A-lister like Nicolas Cage to take on a key supporting role. Which makes JIU JITSU an interesting, throwback B-action flick. Star Alain Moussi’s mostly known as a stunt man/ coordinator, but he’s been making strides as a low-budget action hero, leading the middling KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE and its more positively received sequel, KICKBOXER: RETALIATION. RETALIATION’s director, Dimitri Logothetis, helms this one and it’s nothing if not ambitious. Too ambitious perhaps. Right from the start, it’s clear that the budget isn’t going to allow for state-of-the-art CGI, with graphics that look “Asylum”-level. In the end, though, the chintzy visuals are easy to overlook, as really who cares in a movie like this, which is all about the fighting, which is ok – although some of Logothetis’s ideas don’t quite work.
The plot is old hat, with Moussi’s Jake having amnesia and not sure he has what it takes to take-on Brax, which isn’t a terrible plot for a movie like this as a vulnerable action hero is much better than an invincible one. Moussi hasn’t got the appeal or presence of someone like Scot Adkins yet, but he’s serviceable and certainly could become a B-level action hero if given interesting material. What’s bad about JIU JITSU is that Moussi feels like part of an ensemble, with too much screen time devoted to a collection of bigger names, all of whom, minus Cage, show up for tiny roles. Tony Jaa pops in and out of the film, participating in the occasional scrap, with Frank Grillo barely registers at all as one of the chosen fighters. He doesn’t even really get a solid scrap to prove his mettle.
At least Cage, however, doesn’t phone it in. Say what you will about some of the movies he shows up in, but Cage always does his best, and his role in JIU JITSU is more extensive than you’d think. He has the key mentor role and even gets in on some fights, although I presume he’s heavily doubled. He seems to be having fun in this kind of movie, and the film benefits from his energy.
Too bad then that the action is a mixed bag. Logothesis has this habit of switching over to first-person views, making you feel like you’re watching Playstation gameplay rather than a film. It’s a stylistic choice, but one that doesn’t work. The fights look better here when shot in a less audacious style, and Moussi certainly knows how to move. One big issue is that Brax, who’s essentially a faceless alien, has no personality at all. He’s probably meant to be a PREDATOR-esque villain, but the creature design is weak. He feels like a henchman rather than a big bad.
Some of the supporting cast is wasted too, with Juju Chan never really getting much of an opportunity to show off her mettle as Moussi’s love interest, and former Bond baddie Rick Yune’s part is disappointingly tiny. IN the end, JIU JITSU is fine for folks just wanting a quick turn your brain off action flick, but the money they probably put into giving this a sci-fi spin seems like a big waste, as they could have used the resources to turn this into a more down-and-dirty B-action movie. It’s too ambitious for its own good.