Making an enormous Hollywood motion film within the 21st century means following some well-established guidelines: the stunts need to be large, the explosions need to be enveloping, the soundtrack must be booming, and the combat scenes need to be quickly minimize sensory assaults the place fists and ft appear to fly all over the place. Typically it really works, generally it doesn’t. However both manner, it’s arduous to not get a bit bored seeing variations on the identical Michael Bay/Paul Greengrass-derived immersive, middle-of-the-action method, notably when it obscures the work of first-class fighters and stunt performers. There’s, nonetheless, one other custom, one with decades-old roots in Hong Kong motion films, and even deeper roots in silent comedy. This older, richer custom permits more room for motion to unfold. But it surely’s gone semi-underground this century, disappearing into the world of movies that premiere on video-on-demand, or arrive there shortly after their restricted theatrical runs.
The final couple of many years have seen a gradual churn of lower-profile, lower-budget motion movies from all over the world, movies that make a advantage of resourcefulness by emphasizing combat scenes the place viewers can truly see what the fights appear to be. That won’t look like a radical step, however there’s a motive sure movie followers converse of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear and its star, Scott Adkins, in hushed tones, although Adkins has by no means graduated past supporting roles in Hollywood movies. The low-budget-action world has its personal guidelines and its personal stars, handful of which present up in Dimitri Logothetis’ concurrently thrilling and foolish science-fiction motion movie Jiu Jitsu, during which a handful of specifically expert martial artists battle an alien who periodically visits the Earth searching for combat.
That will look like a skinny premise for a film, and Jiu Jitsu doesn’t do a lot to recommend in any other case. Informal viewers is perhaps tempted to bail early on, because of a complicated, sluggishly paced opening act that includes an amnesiac being rescued by a Burmese fisherman, then taken to a U.S. navy base to be questioned by the authorities. The amnesiac, Jake (Alain Moussi), is later rescued by Keung (Tony Jaa, star of the Ong Bak sequence), who he knew in his forgotten previous. Keung’s arrival doesn’t make the film a lot clearer, however it does usher within the first of an extended string of exceptional combat scenes, as the 2 stars take down what appears to be a whole fight unit chosen solely for his or her combating expertise.
From there, Jiu Jitsu retains including nimble solid members to combat by Jake’s facet. Moussi hails from Gabon and Canada, and is finest recognized for starring within the revived Kickboxer sequence, together with an entry directed by Logothetis. He groups up with figures recognizable from movies and tv sequence made in America (Frank Grillo), China (JuJu Chan), Brazil (Rigan Machado), and even outer house, if the alien counts. Then it provides essentially the most well-known face of all: Nicolas Cage.
Logothetis appears to solely have had Cage for just a few days of filming, however he clearly made essentially the most of these days. Cage’s character, Wylie, lives in disgrace as a result of he as soon as fled from a combat with the alien. He’s decided to not let Jake and the others make the identical mistake. He’s additionally, by his personal description, loopy. Cage is very able to delivering quiet, refined, nuanced work. Jiu Jitsu will not be an instance of that. One of many movie’s most memorable scenes includes an apart the place Wylie talks about his love of creating paper boats. For a lot of the film, he speaks breathlessly whereas carrying sun shades, necklaces, and a purple headband, an outfit that appears an excessive amount of like Dennis Hopper’s costume in Apocalypse Now to have been a coincidence.
Cage appears to be having enjoyable right here. He appears to be having enjoyable lots recently. Whereas his busy schedules hasn’t completely taken him away from the dreary, predictable revenge thrillers he starred in when he first began making VOD films, because the launch of Mother and Dad in 2018, he appears to have consciously sought out films the place he can let unfastened a bit, or at the least lucked into them a bit extra typically than he used to. Nothing in Jiu Jitsu is as unusual because the scene in 2018’s Between Worlds the place his character reads from an erotic e book titled Recollections, credited to an writer named “Nicolas Cage.” Nor does the movie ever method the standard of his finest latest movies, Colour Out of House and (particularly) Mandy. But it surely makes nice use of Cage’s distinctive presence. It by no means performs like a waste of his time.
As soon as it kicks into gear, it by no means appears like a waste of viewers’ time, both. Because the movie progresses, the alien fighters’ human opponents fall by the wayside as they tackle the extraterrestrial killing machine. The set-up owes lots to the man-vs.-alien basic Predator, and so, at instances, does the execution, with our heroes taking over a being able to camouflaging itself in the midst of the forest. (Logothetis’ native Cyprus stands in for Burma right here.) However originality isn’t actually the purpose. And although any Cage-free makes an attempt at comedy fall flat, the motion stays thrilling, thanks largely to Logothetis’ steady-handed, no-frills method. Who knew placing collectively a bunch of gifted martial artists and letting them train these expertise may take an motion movie up to now?
Jiu Jitsu will arrive concurrently in restricted theatrical launch, on digital rental platforms, and on VOD providers on Nov. 20.