REVIEW: Jiu Jitsu

 After a rewatching of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, I found myself naturally craving some more Nicolas Cage.  Naturally, right?  Well, I dug into a film from 2020 that I had not yet seen, Jiu Jitsu, directed by Dimitri Logothetis.  At a rental price of two dollars, how could I not jump on that value for money?  Well, I was then informed that it was on Netflix, so I didn't need to spend a cent.  We live and we learn.

Jiu Jitsu is essentially Predator meets Mortal Kombat.  I'm not saying this figuratively, I am being one hundred percent literal.  An alien comes to hunt warriors, and the chosen warriors need to prevail to save the planet, and there’s a portal involved.  Based on a comic book written by Logothetis and Jim McGrath (who also co-wrote the film's screenplay with Logothetis), the movie digs deep into aspects from both Predator and Mortal Kombat to the point of blatant ripoff.

The opening sequence got me excited.  It felt like extremely low quality direct to video action, the kind that is done with a flair that can warm the heart of a low budget junkie.  After some scenes of lacklustre dialogue, I was amazed to see two back to back action set pieces that showed incredible ambition and creativity from the director.

The first was mostly filmed to feel as though it was one take.  I know there were a number of edits in there, but it came across as really well done.  The martial arts choreography had Tony Jaa taking on opponent after opponent in a thrilling way that was at complete odds from everything the film had laid out prior.  The stunt work was incredible, the flow of it was entertaining, and the creativity made it very compelling.

The second set piece took the camera in a different direction as it sometimes jumped into first person perspective.  When this first happened, I got quite worried in a Hardcore Henry kind of way.  I don't think that perspective is very engaging in movies, and it bores me to be completely honest.  In Jiu Jitsu, it has handled well and never stayed too long in the first person.  All of this isn't John Wick level action, but for a  straight to video film, it was very surprising.

After those two incredibly ambitious sequences (and a third one that was alright), I quickly learned why this film has a Rotten Tomatoes score of twenty eight percent.  The lead character, Jake (Alain Moussi), is a drab and lifeless person who is never interesting enough to care about.  Frank Grillo plays Harrigan, and is typical Frank Grillo, giving what energy to the film he could.  The stand out is of course Nicolas Cage as Wylie, a charismatic man who manages to evade the event horizon of this black hole of a film that sucks all the joy from the few moments earlier in the film.

The second and third acts of Jiu Jitsu are terribly boring, and even though there are some different locations they all feel the same.  Dark places, straight forward combat, alien winning, and alien fighting the next opponent.  Also, why don't all of these warriors fight the alien at the same time?  And when we learn that the alien takes about five seconds to recover from serious injury, why does nobody take advantage of that?  Well, they are waiting for the grand finale for our dusty chalkboard of a hero to remember that detail in the final moments of his battle match.

I honestly thought that I had found a hidden and misunderstood gem.  Those two action sequences and Nicolas Cage are what gives Jiu Jitsu the rating that I'm giving it.  Without those few bright-spots, this would have been like being in the dungeon in Hostel and having a Danish business man trying to torture me with the hot poker of boredom and kill me with the sword of indifference.  Action fans really do need to watch those two set pieces and then walk away.  Briskly, briskly before a part of your soul is captured by the doldrums that rule Jiu Jitsu.

Rating - 2 out of 4 stars

Also, if you have Tony Jaa in your cast in an action film, why oh why isn't he the lead?