The opening credits of Jiu Jitsu are presented in the form of vibrant comic panels, as if director Dimitri Logothetis is asking the audience to please just view the film as silly heightened fun from the pages of a graphic novel. It would be easy to do just that, considering this is a movie about Nicolas Cage-mentored martial artists battling an alien in the Burmese jungle to prevent the destruction of Earth. Yet despite its talented cast, the movie is as awkward and ineffective as bringing fists to a laser-gunfight.

One could try to recount the plot; how Jake (Alain Moussi) wakes up scarred by laser-burn and stricken with Convenient Amnesia™. How the local garrison is trying to determine if he’s friend or foe when Tony Jaa arrives to rescue him, effortlessly smashing his way past guards with worse aim than stormtroopers. That Nicolas Cage (only slightly crazy in this role) shows up as a bandana-wearing swordmaster to gush exposition about portals and comets while his extremely obvious stunt double does acrobatic kung-fu. Jaa and Cage, alongside Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, Rick Yune and Marie Avgeropoulos, are all members of an ultimate-warrior sect trained for ritual combat against a visitor from another world. The visitor is clad in intricate armor, can activate cloaked camouflage, leaps through the trees, fires slicing discs and wields blades…no, wait, this isn’t a secret Predator sequel. It’s Predator’s SyFy-quality cousin, fused with Beyond Skyline and a rubber-suit Power Rangers villain.

But who cares about absurd story? This is about Jaa, Yune, Cage et al with their big guns, samurai swords, and flying knees versus an elite alien champion. We’re here for the action, right? Jiu Jitsu desperately wants to be 2020’s Beyond Skyline. That out-of-the-blue sequel also starred Grillo, also featured martial arts talent in the form of The Raid’s Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian and also featured combat against alien invaders. Yet Jiu Jitsu fails in largely every aspect that the unexpected Skyline sequel succeeded; most importantly, it fails to even offer passable action. Logothetis has directed hard-hitting action before in Kickboxer: Vengeance, but the fights in this film are choppily-edited feather-impact duels. Attempts at stylish sequences – POV brawls and a single-take group battle – are clunky, jarring, and unfocused to the point of eye strain. Tony Jaa gets to shine in what is arguably the film’s most memorable spectacle, then disappears for much of the runtime. Everyone else tries their stilted best to bring a spark of life to scenes aping Predator’s best moments, while its extraterrestrial warrior-poet (Cage’s words) wields fuzzy-CGI weaponry and executes stiff choreography.

Even if the action in this wasn’t lackluster at best, Jiu Jitsu’s deflated plot, cardboard characters, and rushed pace would doom this film all the same. Moussi is blander than drying paint as a lead: a void of personality that the rest of the cast tries to fill with proclamations that his amnesiac character is the chosen one, their most trusted compatriot, the best among them. All while comic-panel chapter cards inelegantly hurry the story along to its next set-piece. There’s a kernel of promise here, a cast of actors who have all proven capable of elevating this kind of material, and a director who has done entertaining DTV action. But despite such assets, this was ultimately more enjoyable as a trailer and imagined potential than as an actual movie.

Summary
As awkward and ineffective as bringing fists to a laser-gunfight.
15 %
No-nono
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