Almost as schlocky as the original, but not nearly as fun, the remake of Kickboxer reimagines the low-budget martial arts cheesefest that cemented Jean-Claude Van Damme as a sort-of-star as a vehicle for Alain Moussi, a high-kicking loaf of white bread with the screen presence one would expect from Jai Courtney’s stunt double. As before, an American kickboxer named Kurt Sloane (Moussi) travels to Thailand to watch his brother fight muay thai champion Tong Po (Dave Bautista, wearing a hairpiece best described as “mop plugs”). In an attempt to simplify the plot of the original, which was already dumber than a bag of rocks, said brother is killed in the ring instead of being paralyzed, leading this police sketch of a hero to seek out Durand (Van Damme, at this point too good of an actor for this material), a fedora-wearing martial arts master who prepares him for the inevitable match against Tong Po through a strict training regimen of underwater bicycling and bar fights.
Directed by puka-shell-necklace B-movie specialist John Stockwell (Blue Crush, Into The Blue) with his usual eye for sweat-glistened hardbodies, Kickboxer: Vengeance attempts a slicker version of the original’s underlying formula of impressive kicks and godawful line readings. There’s always been a place for bad movies in entertainment, and Vengeance has its share of enjoyably crappy moments, be it an unmotivated monologue about The Godfather, a fight atop two motionless and very clearly fake elephants, or something as elemental as a cut to a child actor shrilly yelling, “Coconut time!” It’s not a question of being in on the joke, because there isn’t one; Stockwell and his team are trying to replicate the perceived awesomeness of the first Kickboxer, and little here suggests that they could actually make a better movie than this one. It’s about as authentic as an exercise in intentionally cheesy filmmaking can get nowadays: Moussi is a legitimately and joylessly bad actor; Bautista really is too big and lumbering to play a muay thai fighter; the digital effects are really this bad.
None of it, however, comes within spitting distance of the original’s highs, like its dance sequence, so awkwardly staged and poorly directed that it actually becomes charming. Even though Van Damme—who would develop substantially as an actor once most of his movies started going direct-to-video—was no one’s idea of a thespian in his Kickboxer days, he at least had pretty-boy looks and a sort of goofy Chippendale dancer charisma to lean on. Moussi, a veteran fight coordinator, has a range of motion that often overcomes Stockwell’s indifferent framing of the fight scenes, but he lacks even the acting ability necessary to camp up a scene. A bland beefcake who can throw and take convincing punches, he’s too much of a void to allow Vengeance’s diverting silliness (of which it has plenty) to become infectious.