A reboot (to the face).
The revered (?) ’80s action franchise gets an exhumation with a fresh face doing the kickboxing and an old face doing the training.
The new kid? Alain Moussi, one-time stuntman who gets his shot in a leading role, taking on the character of Kurt Sloane (once originated by Jean-Claude Van Damme). And the old codger? Why it’s Van Damme himself! He’s the grizzled, weather-beaten master who makes Sloane do a bunch of weird things in the name of the all-powerful Training Montage.
For the story, you’re looking at a mild rehash of the original. Kurt’s hotshot older brother takes on a legendary fighter named Tong Po (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy). Where the first movie featured a sanctioned match, this one has the two square off in a no-holds-barred bout and instead of getting crippled, Brother Sloane gets himself killed to death.
This tragic circumstance propels Kurt to take revenge, which leads to Training Montage and–ultimately–an unending final fight scene.
So how are things in the Kickboxer universe? Mediocre. We’re not necessarily talking about a sacrosanct franchise here, but there’s not much going on here to lift the series’ reputation. It’s a by-the-numbers action movie that leans heavily on one-on-one pugilism for its thrills. Which can carry the day well enough if the battles were compelling, but…
…they just don’t quite bring the juice. Credit to Moussi, who definitely has some skills and is up to putting himself into any position that is required, but the choreography kind of lets him down. The fights are fine, but in this day and age you need to introduce something exciting to the premises and Kickboxer: Vengeance falls short. And even with Bautista’s stature and star wattage, the big throwdown finale is more of a chore than a blast.
On the plus side? Van Damme appears to be in dynamite shape.