And You Thought The Gymnastics Scene In The Lost World: Jurassic Park Was Ridiculous!: A Gymkata Review

Released by MGM

Release Date: May 3rd 1985

Starring: Kurt Thomas, Tetchie Agbayani, Richard Norton 

Written by Charles Robert Carner

Directed by Robert Clouse

Rated R (Language, violence, nudity)

What do you get when you take Enter the Dragon, take out anything that is remotely cool or even interesting and replace it with some of the dumbest ideas to come out of Hollywood? Well, you would get Gymkata, a movie that so desperately wants to be a good movie that they just copied other movies in hope of striking gold. Too bad they took all of the bad parts of those movies.

This movie is the third movie in the "Robert Clouse/Fred Weintraub Martial Arts Saga". It's kinda like the Twilight Saga only without all the gayness and without the movies actually tying into each other. The first movie in this saga was Enter the Dragon aka The Movie That Killed Bruce Lee. Everybody remembers Enter the Dragon with it's hip 70's funk soundtrack, the philosophy of Bruce Lee, and the blink-or-you'll-miss-it cameo from the one and only Jackie Chan. Many consider the movie one of the best martial arts movies of all time, but I think that it is just ok. Sure Bruce Lee brought a stone cold approach to his roles and he was a master martial artist, but movies really aren't that good. Take a look again. Bruce Lee was the precursor to the Steven Seagal way of bringing martial arts to the screen: slow and methodical. Besides the end of Way of the Dragon, his fight scenes are played out like a video game. The bad guys just line up to be killed by one punch. I honestly think that if Bruce Lee had lived he would not have been able to make the transition into modern martial arts movies.

The second movie of this saga is The Big Brawl aka Battlecreek Brawl. This was the first attempt by an American company to bring Jackie Chan's unique mixture of superb martial arts choreography and slapstick humor to the States. The only problem was they didn't let Chan do his thing. They wanted a new Bruce Lee and Chan is no Bruce Lee. (In my opinion he is more entertaining and understands the medium of film better)

Since they struck out with Chan, Clouse and Weintraub needed to find a new martial artist whose career they could destroy. Instead of looking at up and comers in the Asian market, the duo decided to set their sights on American, you know because us Americans are really good at a fighting style that we didn't create. Their new star, Kurt Thomas, was not a martial arts at all. He was an olympic hopeful who did not get to compete because the U.S. was mad at Russia, so the U.S. didn't go to the 1980's Olympics. This is a shame because if Thomas had gone, he would have been appearing on Wheaties boxes. Instead, he got the call from Hollywood saying that they wanted to turn him into the white Bruce Lee.

OK so we have almost everything in place to make a great martial arts movie. Now we need a story. How about we take the story from Enter the Dragon and instead of it being a tournament featuring some of the greatest martial artists in the world, we could have a foot race where the competitors have to face some minor obstacles? Now that we have the story what should we call the foot race? How about The Game? That works. Doesn't sound generic at all. Do you think that we should have ninjas? No, but we'll get the closest thing: a guy wearing an executioner's mask. Even some of the guys will work funny hats.

You know, I could see this conversation happening because there is no way that the filmmakers could take this movie seriously. They had to be laughing the whole time. They probably weren't, but I like to think that they were because this movie is a comedy pure and simple. Sure it takes the look and feel of a "real movie", but all the laughs are there even if they weren't meant to be.

The movie stars out with a man being killed while playing The Game. This is intercut with a gymnast working the parallel bars. They are trying to make the connection between the guy dying and the gymnast, but the way it is handled is just sloppy. So we are introduced to Thomas as he is being told about his father's death while playing the game. He is told that he will train and then ship out to the fake country of Parmistan (its real in the movie) where he will compete in The Game. His training will be conducted by Princess Rubali and will consist of the running, swinging on monkey bars, and some light martial arts training in the form of light punches and kicks.

This is all done within the first twenty minutes of the movie. I have never seen a movie get to the training montage so fast. It also seems that part of his training, since it is included in the montage, is falling in love with the princess. During his training there is a bit of dialogue that I found to be very funny. The man who wants Thomas to play The Game asks him if he likes the princess. Thomas responds that he does. The man then says "Interesting heritage. She might be Mongolian" The fact that the man found her heritage interesting isn't funny, but that she MIGHT be Mongolian is very funny, like its a rumor or something.

After the montage, Thomas and the princess go to an eastern European country where they meet a contact who can get them into Parmistan. The fact that the princess of the Parmistan can't get into her own country without the help of someone else isn't lazy writing, it just pads the movie length. Without this section of the movie, the movie would qualify as a feature film. Thomas and the princess are soon chased by some goons through a bunch of alleys. In fact, the alleys are all the same but the movie tries to pass them off as different. After this chase we find out that the contact wants them dead and is shot by the man who brought them there. Thomas and the princess then are able to enter Parmistan without any problem.

Now we are at the point in the movie where we are told exactly what The Game consists of. The players have to run for a little while, then climb some ropes, then they run a little more, then they have to cross a gourge using ropes, then they run a little more, then they enter The Village of the Damned, then they run some more. During all of this they will be guided by some "ninjas" and chased by other, lead by Richard Norton. The "ninja" guides don't wear the funny hats, just the ones that chase the players.

Before The Game can start we are shown what life in Parmistan is like. There seems to be only three areas of the country: the castle where The Game starts and finishes, the fields and forest where the players do their running, and The Village of the Damned where all the crazy people of Parmistan live. During the meal before The Game, we find out that the princess is to marry Richard Norton. They say that it is tradition, but the king, who instead of wearing a crown wears a furry hat with a medal on the front, only has one daughter. How can it be a tradition if it appears that it never happened before?

So after the dinner and a good nights rest the movie finally gives us The Game and let me tell you, it does not disappoint. The players take off from the courtyard of the castle. Within twenty feet Thomas falls down. Another player sees this, turns around, and kicks Thomas in the face. That's right, the hero couldn't make it twenty feet into The Game without falling down and getting kicked in the face.

The players make it to the first field that they have to run through. By this time Richard Norton, who has it out for Thomas, is hot on Thomas' tail, but he can't seem to kill Thomas, only the other players. Norton is so bad at killing he can't even hit Thomas when he is right above him.

By the time Thomas makes it to The Village of the Damned he is basically the only one left. (There is another person alive, but I will leave that up to you to discover. The Village of the Damned is where Parmistan sends all of their crazy people. Thomas runs around trying to find a way out while the crazies make funny noises and laugh. There is one crazy who stands in a corner with a mask on the back of his head. Was he trying to fool Thomas into think that he was a regular guy before attacking him? I just didn't get this. Eventually, Thomas makes it out and he has a final showdown with Norton.

If you thought the fight scenes before were bad, then get ready for this fight. Norton knows a thing or two about martial arts, so his kicks and punches are ok, but Thomas could kick a kid's ass. His punches are weak and his kicks are unconvincing. If the filmmakers had taken a little time to make it LOOK like Thomas could at least throw a punch, then maybe we would have a movie that isn't so funny.

The movie ends with Thomas winning, getting the girl, and saving Parmistan. Then there is a freeze frame and some text that informs us that Parmistan let the U.S. use there country for the Star Wars program. Really? This whole fight was over a satellite program? Wow. I am just stunned.

I know that Gymkata was made because Battlecreek Brawl was such a huge hit (it wasn't), but I think that the filmmakers had finally run their course with the whole tournament idea. The duo would go onto make one more movie together (China O'Brien) which I have never seen. One day I will, but for now I am trying to get the taste of Gymkata out of my mouth.

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