Woof. The complaints I made about Kickboxer 2 and 3? I take them back. Kickboxer 5: The Redemption is, hands down, the worst entry in the franchise. By far. Despite having a lot of potential due to its concept and cast, this film is an absolute slog.
Boring is the worst things an action movie can be, especially when one has as many fight sequences as this one. Cheapness I can overcome. It’s honestly expected when it comes to DTV genre cinema, especially sequels, so I can easily overlook moments like the film’s opening. The opening is actually fairly noteworthy here, as it illustrates the death of Kickboxer 2-4 lead character David Sloane. Clearly not wanting to pay Sasha Mitchell to come back, this important event is relegated to black silhouettes against a blue background as David is beaten to death by henchmen.
Those henchmen execute the hero at the behest of this film’s villain, Negaal (James Ryan), a fighter-turned-crime lord. Negaal, no longer content with just being a South African criminal kingpin, has decided to start his own federation of fighters. He intends to replace the current institution, which rejected him years earlier when he killed an opponent in the ring with an illegal move. Negaal is signing the best fighters he can, and those who reject his offer are promptly murdered, hence David’s throwaway death at the start.
Our lead this time out is a fighter named Matt Reeves (Mark Dacascos), who runs martial arts instruction courses for kids and seems to be heavily respected within the fighting community. Matt is set on edge by David’s death, and, when another fighter friend of his is killed after rejecting Negaal, he decides to take the bastard out. He is aided in his quest by a fighter/ex-con named Paul Croft (Geoff Meed). Paul is released from prison by Negaal to kill Matt, but instead teams up with him to take his old boss out. You see, Paul has renounced his former violent ways. I guess that’s where the “redemption” part of the title comes in, but it makes little sense. After all, Paul wails on a ton of goons before the film ends.
I’ve always liked Mark Dacascos as an action star. Brotherhood of the Wolf, Crying Freeman and Drive are stellar, plus he’s also good in less-than-great projects like The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat: Legacy and Cradle 2 the Grave. He’s good here, but the rest of the movie is so tepid that he can’t save it. It’s an utter waste of Dacascos, which should be considered a crime, as far as I’m concerned.
Another element that should be in the film’s favor, at least as far as I’m concerned, are the South African elements. I’ve always had an affinity for South African villains and/or films set within the country. I don’t know why, but it’s always been a minor sweet spot of mine. Lethal Weapon 2, District 9, Chappie … even throwaway fluff like Blood Diamond. It just works for me.
As a result, I should totally be in the bag for Kickboxer 5, between Dacascos as the hero and its South African villain. This is sadly not the case. I can’t, in good conscience, call this the worst DTV action sequel I have ever seen, but it is definitely one of the most snore-inducing ones that I have come across. I had to struggle to pay attention, which is never a good thing. This is just a bad, bad movie. Congratulations, Albert Pyun! Someone outdid you when it came to shitty Kickboxer sequels.
This is the end, my sweaty, homoerotic action-loving friends. Six films and seven films later, my Kickboxer journey has reached its conclusion. At least for now. After all, Kickboxer: Retaliation is currently in post-production and Kickboxer: Syndicate is in pre-production ahead of a shoot early next year. I will happily review both and examine their place within the franchise as a whole as they arrive. For now, an overview of the existing six films will have to suffice.
1989’s Kickboxer has never been an all-timer of a Van Damme film for me, but it remains an entertaining one to this very day. Its first follow-up, Kickboxer 2: The Road Back, is a mess of a film saved by a capable lead. Kickboxer 3: The Art of War, well, that one is an odd duck. Despite containing the two leads from the previous entry, they might as well be playing completely different characters in a very different franchise. The tone was far lighter and campier, which made for an interesting (though not particularly good) viewing.
Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor might just be the one I remember most from this journey. While not good, it is so mean-spirited and wacky that it becomes an unforgettable slice of DTV sequel cinema. It’s very much the Scanners III: The Takeover of this franchise, though not as good. Beyond the above-mentioned Kickboxer 5: The Redemption, that just leaves the remake, Kickboxer: Vengeance. A solid, but rather unremarkable reboot of the franchise, it makes for a decent base to rebuild the series from. It has, however, faded quite a bit from my memory since reviewing it, which does not bode well for its staying power. At this point, I’ll take eccentricity over stability when it comes to this saga.
This has been an odd road to traverse, especially when viewing the series as a whole. For better or worse, it abandoned the traditional fighting match format of the first film fairly early on and never really looked back. At least half the series ended up being buddy action fare more than sports fighting flicks, although almost all carry some form of the original’s vengeance theme. All of this comes together to form an incredibly disjointed series of (mostly bad) films that are usually only connected in a very loose fashion. What a strange journey.
Without further ado, here’s my final ranking of the series, from best to worst …
Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor (1994)
Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)
Kickboxer 3: The Art of War (1992)
Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)
Kickboxer 5: The Redemption (1995)
Here’s hoping that both Kickboxer: Retaliation and Kickboxer: Syndicate can rank high on the list whenever they finally arrive. The former will have Christopher Lambert, Mike Tyson, and Game of Thrones’ The Mountain in it. Perhaps the latter can redeem South Africa usage in this franchise by casting Sharlto Copley as the villain? A dude can dream!