Is space sperm a thing? Is Royce Gracie an alien? Since when did jiu-jitsu involve swords? These are all questions raised by the recent movie release of Jiu-Jitsu.
The plot, based on a 2017 comic book of the same name that was written in part by the film’s director Dimitri Logothetis, is a doozy. An alien named Brax visited Earth in ancient times and passed along his knowledge in the art of jiu-jitsu to a group of warriors. Now, he returns every six years to challenge this ancient order of fighters. The Earth’s continued future hangs in the balance. A comet that passes Earth marks the arrival of this alien. Given the level of special effects in the film, however, the comet appears to take the form of a giant, astral sperm crossing the sky.
The most recognizable names in the film’s cast include Nicolas Cage, Ong Bak’s Tony Jaa, and Kingdom star Frank Grillo. Diehard martial-arts film fanatics will also recognize the likes of JuJu Chan and Rick Yune. With the exception of Cage, however, these actors take a backseat to a stiff performance from Alain Moussi, the star of the revived Kickboxer series, and heavy screen time for the alien Brax, a bald-faced (quite literally, even) Predator ripoff with very generic features who is portrayed by stuntman Ryan Tarran.
When fight fans think of jiu-jitsu, they often envision the Brazilian variation of the discipline that was taught by the Gracie family. Let’s first dispense with any concerns that the Gracies might be otherworldly. They’re not. Royce is no Martian. As for the movie itself, it takes its interpretation of the martial art from its roots with the Japanese samurai and focuses on the Weapon Kata variety of Japanese Ju Jitsu. The Order wields the katana, nunchaku and tonfa. Furthermore, the fight scenes often employ these weapons and striking arts, while only infrequently including what we often think of as the grappling art of jiu-jitsu. There are a handful of armbars and other holds interspersed between a heavy dosage of swordplay and run-of-the-mill fight sequences, but that’s it. This film is far more reminiscent of an actual Tony Jaa movie and far less that of anything attached to the Gracie name.
The choreography is sometimes on par with what one would expect from a movie with the likes of Jaa or an MMA feature with Grillo. These fight sequences aren’t too shabby on their own, and a martial-arts fan might be satisfied at least at the bare minimum of levels. However, these scenes are also oddly uneven. An initial escape sequence thrusts the viewer into a gamer-esque first-person view, à la the Call of Duty series. This approach is then abandoned for the more conventional angles familiar to most martial-arts movies.
The special effects, meanwhile, are overall a notch above what one would expect from SyFy channel features. There’s nothing particularly riveting about the primary villain’s appearance. In most scenes, his face is nothing more than a light-blue tinted aura, with the occasional shift to hint at a humanoid face underneath. Unfortunately, the glimpses of that face never turn into a bigger reveal of what lies beneath. The alien equivalent of throwing stars are more like something viewers would find on SyFy, and then there’s that laughable comet.
The plot itself is a typical paint-by-numbers approach to an action/sci-fi film. Cage is largely wasted as a secondary character, but then gets a major battle with Brax. Cage flashes both the crazy we’ve come to expect from him and also the understated approach he sometimes employs in his roles. Meanwhile, the climactic encounter is a standard hero-versus-alien affair in which the hero finds the alien’s weakness via a flashback to something that was said earlier in the film and then vanquishes him without much issue. In between, the band of heroes seek to save the planet and each gets their encounter with Brax, yet none of these supporting players are fleshed out with any level of character development and it’s difficult to become too invested in their fate.
This movie sits in a no man’s land between entertaining science-fiction thriller and a bad B movie that’s worth watching for a good laugh. It only succeeds at the latter in brief flashes, such as the initial appearance of Cage’s character and that character’s reintroduction later in the story. Meanwhile, its generic plot, imagery and eventual outcome, along with a cast of characters we never really become invested in, prevents it from achieving success as a serious affair.
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