It’s up to a motley band of warriors to defeat him once and for all. However, this combative crew hits a snag when a close encounter lands their leader in Bourne Identity territory.
Alain Moussi stars as Jake, the amnesiac warrior who is endlessly baffled by what’s going on. (He’s not alone!) The lost memory setup allows Logothetis and co-writer Jim McGrath to use their hero as an audience surrogate, who learns about the world around him as we do. It’s a good idea in theory, but it gives Moussi little to play beyond confused yet noble, which apparently isn’t as easy as Matt Damon made it look. Moussi has headlined action movies like Kickbocker: Vengeance and Kickboxer: Retaliation, but he’s chiefly a stunt performer in big-budget action extravaganzas like Suicide Squad, Pacific Rim, and X:Men Apocalypse. It’s easy to see why. When it comes to throwing himself into fight scenes or furniture-shattering falls, he fully commits. However, he whiffs when it comes to emotions or reactions that aren’t from flying kicks. His bewilderment gets boring.
Also on board are Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Rick Yune (The Fast and Furious), Tony Jaa (Monster Hunter), and JuJu Chan (Wu Assasins). Maybe that ensemble on its own is worth the proverbial cost of admission. Sure, the story Logothetis weaves is a sloppy collision of ideas snatched from other movies and shows. The characters are sketched, and the plot is littered with unanswered questions, bogged down by a meandering military thread, and punched up with abrupt romance and a soap opera-level climax reveal. However, Jiu Jitsu does not scrimp on the fight scenes. There actually may be more screen time dedicated to action than dialogue, emotional beats, or logic. It feels as if the whole script was concocted as a hasty excuse to bring all these fighting folks together and let them face off against an evil foe. I’m not mad at that, but all of the above are here to kick ass. It’s just a shame that Logothetis’s aesthetic seems to be “chuck it all at the wall and see what sticks.”
To his credit, the film rejects the quick-cut style, where the grace of motion is lost. Neither does it deal in the shaky-cam cinematography aimed at blurring violence just enough to squeak a PG-13 past the MPAA. Jiu Jitsu is R-rated, and part of that is purely for violence and blood. Many action scenes are captured in wide shots and long takes, allowing audiences to actually watch the moves. That’s great! Less good is Logothetis’s dogged fixation on employing slow-motion. It’s a sensational effect to highlight a particularly striking move but if you treat every move like it’s special, are any of them? The effect drains the energy of such sequences. In others, Logothetis has his camera spiral about to take in the impact of a blow in a physically dynamic way. This too is garish, but at least there’s energy to it!
On top of all that, Logothetis sets up the chapters of his battle with animated comic book panels that introduce new situations and locations with an inked text announcing: The Reunion, The Rabbit Hole, The Memorial, etc. Why the comic book flare? I honestly have no idea. My guess is Logothetis thought it looked cool, as that seems to be the casual justification for everything from the super-saturated color scheme, to the first-person POV fights (reminiscent of Hardcore Henry), to the villain, who seems a careless collage of other foes.
Brax doesn’t look like a being from another world, just another movie. His outfit is overzealous road-rash guards topped with a helmet which is fog crossed with Jamie Foxx’s Electro look from the loathed Amazing Spider-Man 2. Played by a skilled stuntman, this alien’s physicality is solid and intimidating. Still it seems a wasted opportunity to not envision something uniquely interstellar. This underwhelming design paired with low-budget visual effects makes for a villain who seems better suited to the realm of Power Rangers.
Yet, for all these fumblings, Jiu Jitsu boasts something supremely exciting: Nicolas Cage. Cast as a deranged sage, Cage is unleashed. He hurls the full force of his astonishing charisma into every fiber of motion, elocution, and eye-bugging. As soon as he spins onscreen, the movie levels up, and Logothetis knows it. A sprawling introduction scene not only boasts a battle, but also Cage delivering smirking quips and absurd exposition with a relished intensity. His character, Wylie, warns Jake of “the space man,” who is a “poet warrior in the sci-fi sense.”
Every word exploding from Cage’s crooked grin is unpredictable and delivered with panache. Amid blows and revelations, Wylie happily confesses, “I make hats out of newspapers! It’s an art. It’s a craft. It takes time.” And just like that, I don’t care if any of this makes any more sense, just give me more Cage!
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