Nicolas Cage and Tony Jaa team up to fight an alien assassin.
Admit it. That statement alone is enough to peak your interest.
Such is the premise of Jiu Jitsu, the latest journey into the bizarre featuring the always-interesting Cage. Directed by Dimitri Logothetis (Kickboxer: Retaliation), Jiu Jitsu tells the story of Jake Barnes (Alain Moussi), a master fighter with severe amnesia. Found floating in the water by two Burmese fishers, Barnes is taken to a nearby military outpost for questioning. However, when a mysterious fighter (Tony Jaa) helps Barnes escape, the two men rejoin an ancient order led by Wylie (Cage) who are determined to defeat Brax, an ancient alien assassin that is unleashed every six years to wreak havoc upon humankind.
If you’re already confused, don’t worry. Jiu Jitsu isn’t too concerned about logic so you shouldn’t be either.
Featuring some fun fights and cracked Cage-isms, Jiu Jitsu is an outrageous actioner that thankfully never takes itself too seriously. Based on Logothetis’ 2017 comic of the same name, the story borrows heavily from other conflicting franchises, resulting in a bit of a confusing mess. Fortunately, the film’s success lies not in its narrative cohesion but through its entertaining fight sequences.
Part Predator and part Ong Bak, Jiu Jitsu fully embraces its bizarre blend of styles with reckless glee. As a veteran director of low budget fight films, Logothetis makes good use of his actors and allows them to have space to be creative. In doing so, he wisely gives veterans Jaa, Moussi and ex-Marvel villain Frank Grillo ample opportunities to show off their skill and speed in an effort to keep the audience entertained. Though the film features some (less than) special effects (like digital shurikens), the true joy of this film lies in the more grounded work of its truly talented martial arts performers.
However, at the same time, there are also moments where Logothetis needs to show restraint. Instead of allowing his cast to step to the forefront, there are moments where he unnecessarily relies too heavily on parlour tricks like first-person action or spinning cameras. Whereas some films need to compensate for their cast’s lack of expertise with quick cuts or multiple angles, the stars of Jiu Jitsu are far too experienced and well-trained to require such distracting filmmaking.
While admittedly, much of the cast don’t feel particularly interested in the story itself, the one exception is Cage. It goes without saying that, at this point in his career, Cage has embraced films that push the envelope of camp and silliness with outright glee. As a faded martial arts master in Jiu Jitsu, Cage continues his trend of elevating strange material by immersing himself into the role with a sardonic wink. (In fact, as the wily Wylie, Cage even refers to himself as ‘crazy’ several times.)
Amidst the absurdity, there is an underlying story in Jiu Jitsu that wants to highlight the true meaning of valour. Having run from alien assassin Brax in their first encounter, Jake is mocked by others for his cowardice (including by Brax himself). This is a world where value lies within the soul of the brave. In light of this, the film clearly wants to depict the power of courage, especially when it comes to sacrificing one’s self to protect others. However, even with its noble intentions, the film simply struggles when it comes to engaging any cohesive point.
While Jiu Jitsu is hardly the best of its genre, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the ride. Featuring some amusing character work from the always-interesting Cage and furious fights from Jaa and Moussi, there’s enough entertainment value here for an evening of streaming silliness. Though, like the amnesia that plagues Barnes himself, don’t be surprised if you find that the film is ultimately forgettable.
Jiu Jitsu is available on VOD now.