Nic Cage, aliens, and jiu-jitsu. It’s a holy trinity of genre campiness that seems almost too good to be true. Thankfully, that’s what director Dimitri Logothetis delivers with his latest effort Jiu Jitsu. Logothetis’ film boasts a plethora of shamelessly over-the-top genre setpieces, more than enough to counter the film’s myriad of technical issues.
Jiu Jitsu follows Jake (Alain Moussi), a jiu-jitsu warrior who’s suffering from amnesia. This couldn’t come at a worse time, as every six years, an ancient order of jiu-jitsu fighters joins forces to battle a vicious race of alien invaders. When a celebrated war hero goes down in defeat, the fate of the planet and mankind hangs in the balance of Jake and his elite tribe.
Combining the cat-and-mouse thrills of Predator with a bombastic, midnight movie-sensibility, Logothetis’ direction operates with an infectious reckless abandon. His film takes the kitchen sink of B-movie staples and infuses them into one gleefully silly popcorn movie. This approach works due to Logothetis’ ability to marry a self-aware tonality with a straight-faced delivery, allowing the cheeky elements to operate without being too obvious. It’s also a joy to see Nic Cage, Frank Grillo, and Tony Ja leaning into the dopey genre-sensibility, with Cage being a joy as an unhinged jiu-jitsu master.
What often goes unappreciated with films of this elk is the craftsmanship behind them, with Logothetis matching the material’s gonzo style with some creative techniques. Whether it’s implausible POV action scenes (the camera follows the perspective of a character until it’s set down to then watch that character fight) or a heaping of low-rent special effects (comic book pannel transitions are used throughout), Logothetis consistently finds new wrinkles to throw at his audience. While shrouded in imperfections, these sequences display a sincere effort from all involved, as they push their budgetary restrictions to their creative limit.
I had a blast throughout Jiu Jitsu, but the film can’t quite reach cult-level status. While the supporting cast leans into their campy roles (Eddie Steeples has fun as a timid soldier), star Alain Moussi struggles mightily. His stiff presence makes the archetype role feel like a mere-cliche, with his straight-man role being the least interesting aspect of the busy narrative. I also felt the film’s first half lag in comparison to the chaos that follows it, with some of the script’s exposition dumps failing to engage the audience.
Jiu Jitsu will likely be dismissed at first glance, but those who can tune into its dopy wavelength will have a blast with this low-brow genre adventure.
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