21st January 2020 (UK)
Every six years, an ancient order of jiu-jitsu fighters joins forces to battle a vicious race of alien invaders. But when a celebrated war hero goes down in defeat, the fate of the planet and mankind hangs in the balance.
Alain Moussi, Nicolas Cage, Raymond Pinharry, Tony Jaa, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan
Every six years, a comet passes Earth. During which time, a portal in a Buddhist Temple opens, allowing an alien creature known as Brax to enter our planet. He comes here for one reason – to fight. If he doesn’t get it, he stays here and kills everything in his path. It’s up to an amnesia suffering solider named Jake and his highly trained acquaintances to fend off Brax’s attack, with a little help from a paper hat wearing Nicolas Cage along the way.
Jiu Jitsu is an over-stylized mess. Scenes open with a comic-book style panel for some inexplicable reason, the camera work is busier than London rush hour traffic and creative choices of shots are at times nonsensical. In one sequence, the fight switches to the point-of-view of our hero, Jake, who then gets knocked backwards – leaving the camera where it is as he walks back into shot, essentially switching back to third person. Then he’s kicked back into camera again for a return to first person perspective. It’s abandoned after this scene and not used again. It adds nothing to the sequence and I imagine is only used to make an otherwise dull fight more exciting. Even then, it fails to do so.
On the subject of its combat, Jiu Jitsu isn’t short on action. It’s just a shame then that they are exceedingly tedious to watch. Almost every ‘final contact’ is slowed down which I assume was for dramatic effect of impact. Instead, it highlights the choreographic flaws and softens the blows. From what I’ve read afterwards, very little Jiu Jitsu is actually used here. I can’t confirm this, but given the incompetence of the rest of the picture, it’s a point that wouldn’t surprise me at all. Most of the time, those on the receiving end of the punches and kicks fall from a few stories on to clearly visible crash mats, but through some thin wooden boxes for good measure. The first half has the team up against a hapless US Army who must have trained at the same gun range as Stormtroopers. They miss shots even when the gun barrel is making contact with the intended targets forehead.
Stuntman turned actor Alain Moussi still has a way to go in becoming anything close to a leading star. His character is afflicted with amnesia (another gripe which I’ll get to in a second), which results in the majority of his work here consisting of a confused and dumbfounded look. It’s probably for the best. Frank Grillo (The Purge: Anarchy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) growls his way through proceedings as Harrigan (I used the IMDb name, because I genuinely do not remember him being referred to with this name once), while veteran Martial Artist Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak) turns up to bust a few heads, but is made to look amateurish due to the aforementioned stylistic choices. The same applies to the talented JuJu Chan, a real-life Kickboxing champ. Nicolas Cage (Mandy, Mom & Dad), a man whose name is also a verb, goes Mid-level Cage but remains the only reason to watch Jiu Jitsu. Don’t let his prominence on the poster fool you though. After what feels like the six year cycle of the comet hitting Earth, he appears roughly half-way through to bullet point the equally convoluted and under-developed plot. Mercifully, he sticks around a little while longer, but it’s not enough to save the film.
Their foe, Brax, continues the campy 90’s Power Rangers feel of Jiu Jitsu. It’s quite obviously a man in a suit with a CGI head. Think of the Amphibian Man from The Shape of Water combined with the smoke-filled helmet of Mysterio from Spiderman: Far From Home. The few glimpses of Brax’s face look as if it’s smushed up against the front of the glass, with the steam actually being condensation from him breathing. His vision is similar to Predator‘s but with the HUD of Terminator. For some bizarre reason, he’s got a map of the entire World in the bottom right of his periphery. As an enemy, it’s as close to Predator as you can get without being sued. His abilities are uncannily similar and some of the shots of an ‘invisible’ creature in the trees could have been lifted straight from the 1987 sci-fi classic.
Back to the amnesia point. Jake clearly is in a state of confusion, having no idea what’s happening to him or why he’s being led from pillar to post with this strangely dressed group. Yet they cannot seem to comprehend his memory loss. Phrases like “You really don’t remember?” and “You honestly don’t know?” are commonplace and still happening well past the hour mark. And yet they continue to refrain from telling him what they’re talking about! It’s incredibly frustrating. One scene in particular truly boiled my blood. They’re all walking somewhere and Jake suggests they go and actively look for Brax. To which Harrigan retorts: “This was your plan, Jake!”, as the others – once again – seem thoroughly shocked at the blanks in his memory. “You forgot? Don’t tell me you forgot ‘THE PLAN’ which we’re not going to remind you of!” He did tell you. At least a dozen times.
Although a bout of selective amnesia aimed right at Jiu Jitsu wouldn’t go amiss to forget I ever gave my time to a film that’s as much fun as a roundhouse kick to the face.