I was really excited to see “Jiu Jitsu”. Just from the trailer, it was evident it would probably be horrendous, but I was intrigued. Now that I’ve seen it, I can honestly say it has everything one could hope for in a low-budget B-grade action flick: a ridiculous and overcomplicated story, unintentionally hilarious dialogue, clichés galore, and an outrageous plot twist at the end that was just as unnecessary as it was unexpected.
The main character, Jake Barnes (played by Alain Moussi) plays a far less intelligent Jason Bourne character, whose injury-induced amnesia provides a convenient excuse for the other characters in the film to explain everything that happens. Except, the constant dumbfounded look on Jake’s face and his one-note tough-guy delivery persists even after his identity and purpose is understood. And even to say “understood” would be a stretch, considering the film’s tendency to put the necessity for incessant hand-to-hand combat above even the most basic storytelling requirements.
Jake Barnes is treated for his wounds by a local dispatch of US Military troops, who interrogate him for “answers.” Then, expertly camouflaged behind a group of the most conspicuous-looking monks you’ve ever seen, a lone hooded warrior single handedly kicks everyone’s ass at the military base and abducts Jake. After that a bunch of other things happen, but the main story is as follows: Jake is the leader of a renegade group of self-proclaimed “Jiu Jitsu” warriors, who have devoted their lives to fight off an Alien (basically Predator) that comes to Earth through a portal in a Burmese temple every 6 years coinciding with the appearance of a comet passing through the sky. You still following? The Alien (or man in an alien suit – take your pic), known as Brax, likes to fight for sport and, as is repeated many times, will destroy the world if he does not get a worthy fight. When Jake questions what exactly will happen if they don’t defeat Brax, his comrade-in-arms explains in detail: “Everyone dies…everyone.”
The Jiu Jitsu choose to fight the alien with their bare hands, medieval swords, and what appear to be metal PVC pipes. This makes no practical sense because the Alien has demonstrated it’s relatively impervious to physical attacks, but vulnerable to gunfire. Yet, important details aside, this choice allows for an astounding, tiresome amount of derivative fight scenes. I will admit it was very satisfying to see Nicholas Cage, or at least his stunt double (who probably has more screen time) put the Alien in a leg lock. However, a good action movie should not be measured by the amount of fight scenes, but rather by the quality of them. And for the most part, the fight scenes in “Jiu Jitsu” don’t pack much of a punch. When hits land, they don’t sound convincingly hard-hitting, and at least in my case, the bone-crunching sounds made the scene funnier, not more realistic.
The camera work in the fight scenes was somewhat erratic, incorporating POV, mostly handheld shots, and multiple instances of complete camera inversion, which felt more jostling than exciting. At first, the slow motion takedown shots were cool, but they became far overused and very quickly lost their intensifying effect. The original score was typical recycled action movie music, but it did its job.
I’ve sometimes had trouble discerning whether the acting in a movie is bad, or if the script is just so atrocious that it would make even method actor Daniel Day Lewis sound like a moron. This was not a problem for me with “Jiu Jitsu” as both were clearly, shall we say, lacking, despite the best efforts of Nicholas Cage in some scenes. Nicholas Cage plays the stereotypical crazy, reclusive Jiu Jitsu master that mentors Jake on his predestined path to save the world. I can only imagine they paid him big bucks to add some star power to this movie, or he’s more desperate for parts than I would have thought. Either way, this is definitely not his comeback film. At one point in the middle of a fight with Jake, he stops and proudly notes how he’s taken up making newspaper hats: “It’s an art. It’s a craft,” he proclaims passionately. Just give him the Oscar already.
The litany of issues with “Jiu Jitsu” is extensive, but at some point one has to ask if it’s even worth exploring. This film, in some sense, knows exactly what it is and unashamedly doubles down on its action movie tropes, cheesy clichés, and half-baked storyline ideas. For some, though, that might be exactly what they want, and if so, this could actually be a fun watch. So, you can go crazy trying to fill in the plot holes, or just accept it as what it is. In order to end on a good note, let us celebrate this film with one of my favorite lines: “I got a license to kill you…<Pause for effect> No expiration date.”