VOD film review: Jiu Jitsu
James R | On 24, Dec 2020
Director: Dimitri Logothetis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Frank Grillo, Tony Jaa
Watch Jiu Jitsu online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
“So you guys are some kind of ninja alien fighters?” That’s how one character sums up the basic appeal of Jiu Jitsu, a sci-fi actioner that would be better titled as simply “Ninjas vs Aliens”. The film’s premise isn’t much more complicated: a group of martial arts fighters team up every six years to face off against an alien who comes to Earth for reasons. Among their number are Frank Grillo and Nic Cage, as well as kickboxer Alain Moussi.
Moussi is no stranger to the screen: he’s most recently headed up the revived Kickboxer franchise, and his physical chops are in doubt as he leads the way through the fist-and-feet carnage as Jake. Those looking to tune in for some Nic Cage fun are likely to be disappointed, as the Face/Off and Mandy star turns up in a resolutely straight-faced performance partway through – he’s Wylie, a veteran who lives out a remote existence in a cave and tries to help Jake recall his forgotten memories about the alien-fighting fraternity.
That, in itself, wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s indicative of the whole project’s tone, which takes itself a little too seriously. The limited budget is worked around neatly by director Dimitri Logothetis (Kickboxer: Retaliation), who incorporates some comic book panels to link together set pieces in a nod to the graphic novels the film’s based on – some first-person shots mid-battle are less effective and distract from the combat skills on display from a case that also includes the legendary Tony Jaa.
Where another movie might lean into the camp absurdity of the concept to make something more cheap and cheerful, Jiu Jitsu’s determination not to crack too much of a smile stops everything from being as entertaining at it could be; while Grillo is always worth watching and Moussi has charisma, the film is better at developing character through action not through sombre drama. The result is a frustratingly slow sci-fi thriller that never quite lands a killer blow.
Jiu Jitsu is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.