Gymkata is terrible. Not in a Troll 2 kind of way, where the filmmaking suffers on every basic level, but in a way that you'd expect a movie that combines gymnastics and karate to be terrible. Olympic medalist Kurt Thomas took some metaphorical classes at the Van Damme School of Acting and puts all of those "skills" on display here, in a movie eerily reminiscent of many starring the Muscles from Brussels.
Director: Robert Clouse
Starring: Kurt Thomas, Tetchie Agbayani, Richard Norton
Coming off as the unwanted spawn of Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and The Princess Bride, 1985's Gymkata has one of the most basic plots you can imagine (even in the martial arts genre): Jonathan Cabot (Thomas) is recruited by the government to fight in an ancient battle in the fictional country of Parmistan so the American military can place - and I quote - "an early warning Earth Station...in Parmistan for the U.S. Star Wars Defense Program."
Almost none of these points come to be important to the actual story, though - basically, Cabot shows up in this country and has to complete nothing more than a massive obstacle course. No big organized battle between multi-national contestants, no elder judge peering on from on high, no cheap tricks like putting glass in your gloves at the last second, no crane kicks for the championship. There's the standard montage sequence, but it's over and he's on the way to the actual event within minutes of the film's opening. Van Damme movies (The Quest, for example) generally take at least half of the film to get to this point, concentrating heavily on the training aspects that this film decides to speed past.
The reason the filmmakers toss the training to the side? So Cabot can stumble through foreign countries being doublecrossed by his military contacts, Princess Rubali (Agbayani) inexplicably in tow (apparently she's a "master of The Game," the obstacle course Cabot must complete, but she never proves her mastery or does anything worthwhile). Luckily, Cabot comes across random gymnastics equipment supposedly organic to the area so he can dispatch the thugs that are after him. The king's chief aide plots to overthrow the nation (shocker!) and is betrothed to the Princess (double shocker!), who has fallen madly in love with the American gymnast (C-C-C-C-COMBO SHOCKER!). In an alley, there happens to be a parallel bar connecting two walls for Cabot to swing from and knock people out. This comes after a 10 minute sequence in which the same series of events happens: Cabot and Rubali run hand in hand through the street until they hit a wall, where they pause to look at the gun-toting thugs behind them, who fire their weapons and hit the cement near the couple. Repeat ad nauseum.
If you've read this far, just watch the trailer.
Looks kinda awesome, right? It's terrible, that's for sure, but there's also a level of seriousness to this that makes it very easy to laugh at. You can tell that the filmmakers (especially Clouse, who directed Bruce Lee in his only English-speaking role in Enter the Dragon) are taking this as seriously as the rules for getting into Parmistan ("everyone who enters must play The Game!"). I think the narration was what sold it for me. The supporting cast is a hodgepodge of lookalikes that resembled Alan Rickman and Mel Brooks, but with a fraction of their talent. Actually, forget the acting entirely since it's basically nonexistent.
There's no need to tell you how the story ends, because if you have the capacity to read these words then you already know exactly what happens and can probably predict it scene for scene within the first 15 minutes of the film (if not earlier). There were some highlights, to be sure: one dude gets an arrow to the gut mid-sentence that made me laugh really hard because of how random it seemed (there are an inordinate amount of arrows fired in this movie), and when Cabot discovers a pommel horse in the middle of a town where the Parmistanis send their mentally insane, he uses it to fend them off with spinning kicks and some of the most ridiculous moves you can imagine.
But is this worth seeing? Unless your name is Alan Trehern (my good friend over at The Solar Sentinel who loves these kinds of terrible movies), I'd say stay the eff away. Just watch the trailer again and you'll get all the enjoyment out of this that you need. Until next time...