The sci-fi actioner JIU JITSU enjoyed a fair amount of advance hype among film nerds thanks to Nicolas Cage’s involvement. But now the film has a score of 2.9/10 on the IMDb. Our criticism tries to explain this.
OT: Jiu Jitsu (USA 2020)
It happens every six years: humans have to face an alien invader. An ancient martial arts order has made it its mission to send its best members into the ring to protect the earth. But embarrassingly, the order’s strongest fighter, Jake Barnes (Alain Moussi), runs away one day, battered. In the middle of a fight with alien warrior Brax (Ryan Tarran). A completely confused Jake can be saved by the Jiu-Jitsu fighters around Wylie (Nicolas Cage), Harrigan (Frank Grillo), Keung (Tony Jaa) and Carmen (Juju Chan), but he is seriously injured. And the clock is ticking: The team must quickly push the experienced fighter back to his old form so that he can finally put the seemingly overwhelming opponent from space to flight.
Nicolas Cage duels, wielding a sword, with an alien who also wields a sword – in a film named after the Japanese martial art of unarmed self-defense Jiu Jitsu: That was enough to create a certain amount of hype. For trash fans, for film enthusiasts who can warm up to strange premises, and for everyone who appreciates Nicolas Cage and his eccentric choice of projects. But after initial enthusiasm for the strange basic idea and the trashy, charming trailer, the mood changed radically. After its US release, “Jiu Jitsu” was bombarded with negative press reviews and no less unfavorable audience reactions. In the IMDb, the sci-fi actioner is the most negatively rated Nicolas Cage film with an average user rating of 2.9/10 points, and on Letterboxd “Jiu Jitsu” is also quite the same with 1.6 out of 5 points not rosy at all.
Frank Grillo is there…
However, to start our review of the film on a positive note: Part of the audience reaction can probably be attributed more to anger at the misleading marketing than to the film itself. Because “Jiu Jitsu” is part of the very long tradition of B movies, which is a large part Scrape together their budget for a big star who only shows up for a few days of filming but then becomes the focus of the trailer and poster. So anyone who watches “Jiu Jitsu” to see an unleashed Nicolas Cage will inevitably be left severely disappointed, as the Oscar winner only plays a sporadically appearing supporting character. However, considering that Cage was only on set for three days of the six-week production, the Hollywood star takes up a surprising amount of space in the film. And it is also Cage who significantly enhances “Jiu Jitsu”. This can be classified under “tremendous stroke of luck” because director Dimitri Logothetis (“Slaughterhouse – A horror trip into the afterlife”) originally wanted to get Bruce Willis for his film. However, he didn’t get back to the film team, so Cage was approached as a plan B. Only later did it become known that Willis had a contract with another studio and therefore could not accept.
“Anyone who watches Jiu Jitsu to see an unleashed Nicolas Cage is bound to be left severely disappointed, as the Oscar winner only plays a sporadic supporting character.”
Considering how pristine Bruce Willis sleepwalks through his direct-to-DVD, direct-to-Blu-ray and direct-to-streaming projects, Logothetis and his crew should count themselves lucky. After all, Cage makes the most of every moment in front of the camera and, with smug humor, plays a top fighter gone mad with crazy wisdom, eccentric quirks and ardent joy in conflict. When Cage isn’t in sight, and that’s true for most of the film, Thai martial arts legend Tony Jaa takes over (“Monster Hunter”) the level: Where Cage scores with his unleashed acting, the 45-year-old Jaa lets his unbroken impressive physique do the talking. Jaa darts and jumps through his scenes with nimbleness and nimbly distributes blows and kicks, which Logothetis captures in continuous shots. But where Jaa’s fighting artistry is, the film’s shortcomings are not far away in “Jiu Jitsu”: The fight choreography is monotonous and due to the ultra-thin script, the virtually non-existent character drawing of all characters not played by Cage, as well as the resulting ones , flat tension curve, the action sequences are mostly insignificant.
… just like Tony Jaa.
While Jaa’s athleticism must be appreciated, from a narrative perspective his scenes are just there. The fact that some of his stunt partners act far below his level (for example, placing punches far next to his face) further reduces the effect of these passages. Logothetis also has his cameraman Gerardo Madrazo (“Paul, the Apostle of Christ”) some of the action scenes are captured in an image aesthetic that is reminiscent of mediocre Go-Pro material – this still has a dynamic effect in the most hectic exchanges, but mostly just seems cheap and unatmospheric. “The Return of the First Avenger” villain Frank Grillo and main actor Alain Moussi (“Street Fighter: Resurrection”) trudging with a stony expression through dull scripted dialogue passages and meandering fight sequences without any notable artistry. They will be presented by JuJu Chan, who is probably relatively unknown in this country (“Savage Dog”) declassed. Although her role is extremely thinly sketched, the director at least gives Chan room to fill her character with a lively, cheerful esprit. As a cheerful fighter who constantly fights her way through, Chan is a much-needed tonal splash of color in the cageless scenes of this sci-fi actioner, which is presented in either muddy green-brown, stiff sand-brown or spongy blue-black, in which it is sometimes difficult to understand the facial expressions of the stone ones to recognize acting gentlemen. At some point the question arises: If everyone in the world of “Jiu Jitsu” is so lifeless, why would it actually be bad if the alien won?
“The fight choreography is monotonous and due to the ultra-thin script, the virtually non-existent character drawing of all characters not played by Cage, and the resulting flat tension curve, the action sequences are mostly insignificant.”
Conclusion: “Jiu Jitsu” is a dull, unappealing sci-fi actioner with lifeless characters who shout awkward dialogues at each other. When they’re not throwing punches and kicks in very long, low-tension action scenes. And occasionally Nicolas Cage, Tony Jaa or JuJu Chan show up to briefly banish the overwhelming boredom with their skills.
“Jiu Jitsu” will be available on DVD and Blu-ray from March 12th and can already be streamed on VOD.