By: Trevor Chartrand
I am sad to share the unfortunate fact that Jiu Jitsu is, quite frankly, an awful movie…conclusively, undeniably disappointing all around. Even with low expectations for an absurd martial arts B-Movie, this film is still going to be a big let-down for viewers.
Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, Jiu Jitsu is the story of an Earth-orbiting comet that appears in our night sky once every six years, and awakens some type of alien-monster-demon that proceeds to run through the jungle and throw ninja stars at people. With heat-seeking vision (or rather, tattoo-seeking vision?), the definitely-not-a-Predator-knockoff creature hunts people in the woods. A group of eight human guardians, each one a martial artist, have the task of keeping the creature at bay until they can return it to a hole in a temple wall, where it originally came from.
Jiu Jitsu promises silly action and over-the-top adventure, and it does delivers on both – sort of. The film’s plot – which barely matters in a movie like this – is simple and clichéd enough to lay the groundwork for balls-to-the-wall thrills and martial arts excess. A bare-bones type of story is great when it’s just a framework for an all-out action flick, but the fight scenes in this movie aren’t creative or interesting enough give the film life or excitement. Guns Akimbo succeeds where Jiu Jitsu fails, with creative action and charismatic characters supporting an otherwise wafer-thin narrative.
The film makes a few attempts at some fight scene gimmicks, but they often fail. A long-take, first-person POV action sequence from the film comes to mind as an example. The seed of the idea is there, but the problem often lies in its execution. Most action sequences in the film are weighted down with a combination of poor cinematography and some awful post-production flourishes. The hand-to-hand combat sequences are shot handheld, and sped up slightly in post. The resulting shaky-cam is literally headache-inducing with its unnatural fast speed. Action is constantly being slowed down and sped up again, placing emphasis in all the wrong places. A message to the filmmakers – an unnamed henchman falling into a pile of straw is not cinematic enough to justify slow motion.
In addition to strange playback speed choices, Jiu Jitsu is littered with a sad, almost pathetic, display of poorly rendered visual effects. Gun muzzle flashes, blood effects, and explosions are all hastily superimposed over the frame in countless places. These stock effects are relied upon way too heavily considering how bad they look.
Besides the poor effects and choreography, many of the film’s action sequences truly fail because they lack the context and stakes to get a viewer involved. An early scene features Ong-Bak actor Tony Jaa, a character we haven’t met yet, fighting off soldiers at an army jungle base. The lengthy scene goes on for quite some time, and it’s unclear who the character is, why he is fighting the soldiers, and whose side we should be on. It’s explained away eventually, but in the moment we’re watching a random character beat up other random characters without context. The film makes no effort to generate viewer interest in the action, leaving for an ultimately boring scene.
The characters and performances are the film’s final lifeline, and unfortunately they also fail to shine. As the lead of the film, Alain Moussi plays a character suffering from memory loss following a hit on the head. The guy is literally a blank slate, and his wooden, uninterested performance doesn’t lend much to the film overall. Jiu Jitsu also features Nicolas Cage in a supporting role, and these filmmakers have somehow managed to make this explosive and unpredictable actor look dull as well. His talent is wasted on expositional dialogue as an Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque character.
Having cast Cage, the filmmakers really missed an opportunity to let the actors ham things up. The performances and the action sequences in a movie like this should lean into the absurdity of the concept, rather than taking everything so seriously.
Jiu Jitsu is not the midnight movie classic it had the potential to be. It will not be remembered endearingly by fans of B-Movies like Sharknado or Snakes on a Plane. The film will leave no mark on the world and fade into oblivion, which is its ultimate, and most disappointing, travesty.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor