I liked ‘Kickboxer: Retaliation.’ So what are you going to do about it?
To say that “Kickboxer: Retaliation” is the best film in a 29-year-old martial-arts franchise in which you can feel your IQ points dropping faster than a pebble tossed down Niagara Falls may be damning with faint praise, but it’s praise nonetheless.
A whirlwind of feet, fists, swords, knives, chains and cleavers, “Kickboxer: Retaliation” is like a roundhouse kick to the face for two hours.
And, yes, that’s a good thing.
Director/writer Dimitri Logothetis wisely ditches any pretense of getting his characters to act - star Alain Moussi, a Canadian stuntman and martial-arts pro by trade, won’t be striding the Oscar stage any time soon - and just keeps the fists of fury flying. And when you have the fists of Moussi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Icelandic behemoth Hafthor Julius Bjornsson from “Game of Thrones” and Mike Tyson - yes, that Mike Tyson - that’s pretty much all you need.
For those who haven’t had time to keep up, “Kickboxer: Vengeance,” from two years ago, was a reboot of the original, 1989 “Kickboxer,” starring Van Damme. That film told the story of fighter Kurt Sloane (Moussi) who enters an illegal, underground Muay Thai kickboxing tournament in Thailand to avenge the death of his brother, also a fighter, who perished in the ring there.
Sloane ends up with a two-fer in Thailand: getting justice by slaughtering his competitor, the vicious Tong Po (Dave Bautista from “Guardians of the Galaxy”), the man who murdered his brother; and meeting the woman who would become his wife, Liu (Sara Marakul Lane).
“Retaliation” picks up a year or so later, with Sloane kidnapped from the U.S. and imprisoned in Thailand by nefarious fight promoter Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert, a long way from his “Greystoke” days), who wants Sloane to pay for killing Tong Po, his top fighter and star attraction. If Sloane agrees to battle the 400-pound mountain of a man known as Mongkut (Bjornsson), Moore will set him free, give him a huge wad of cash and release Liu, whom he’s also taken.
Fortunately for Sloane, before he meets Mongkut in the ring, he is able to avail himself of the services of two other prisoners: Master Durand (Van Damme, once again wearing a jaunty porkpie hat that he rarely removes), who trained Sloane in “Vengeance,” and is now blind (don’t ask) but still able to deliver bruising blows with ICBM-like accuracy; and a boxer named Briggs (Tyson), who introduces himself by shellacking Sloane faster than you can say “Leon Spinks” (ask your parents, or Google). They then become a muscular Yoda to Sloane’s ripped Luke Skywalker. (Tyson seems to have found a home in martial-arts films. He was also in the Chinese “Ip Man 3” in 2015.)
Logothetis approaches this story with a sense of humor - using a version of the Surfaris’ 1963 hit “Wipeout” as the soundtrack for a showpiece fight scene - and a keen visual eye. He knows that the martial-arts audience just wants well-choreographed fights and, unlike the last movie, which stumbled when outside the ring, he doesn’t bog things down with too much plot about fraternal bonding, love interests, or anything that requires an emotion more complicated than punching someone’s lights outs.
And if its simple premise makes “The Commuter” look like “Memento,” well, what’s the loss of a few brain cells among friends?