Review: ‘Jiu Jitsu,’ starring Alain Moussi, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, Tony Jaa and Nicolas Cage

April 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Nicolas Cage and Alain Moussi in “Jiu Jitsu” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue Entertainment)

“Jiu Jitsu”

Directed by Dimitri Logothetis

Culture Representation: Taking place in Burma, the sci-fi action film “Jiu Jitsu” features a cast of white and Asian characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, mercenaries and U.S. military officials.

Culture Clash: Several human beings battle a death warrior from outer space who comes to Earth every six years from a comet-created space portal. 

Culture Audience: “Jiu Jitsu” will appeal primarily to people interested in sci-fi action movies that are inferior imitations of “The Predator” movie franchise.

JuJu Chan in “Jiu Jitsu” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue Entertainment)

“Jiu Jitsu” has nothing to do with the martial arts craft of jiu jitsu, just like this movie has nothing to do with high-quality entertainment. It’s just a messy parade of sci-fi action schlock with tacky visual effects. It also blatantly rips off elements of “The Predator” movie franchise.

Dimitri Logothetis, a filmmaker of hack action movies, directed the mind-numbing “Jiu Jitsu,” which really is nothing but corny fight scenes strung together with abysmal dialogue, all lumbering along until the very predictable ending. Logothetis co-wrote the horrific screenplay with James “Jim” McGrath. “Jiu Jitsu” could have easily been a short film, but it’s dragged out to tedious levels because of repetitive battle scenes.

The gist of the flimsy story is that a mysterious, muscle-bound American man named Jake (played by Alain Moussi) finds himself at the center of an intergalactic battle that has been taking place on Earth for centuries. Every six years, a comet opens up a portal on Earth. A death warrior named Brax emerges from the portal to fight a group of humans who call themselves Jiu Jitsus. Their Jiu Jitsu leader is “the chosen one” who must fight Brax, or else everyone and everything on Earth will be killed.

Jake is first seen in “Jiu Jitsu” running frantically in a forest in Burma, as if something is chasing him. (“Jiu Jitsu” was actually filmed in Cyprus.) Jake falls over a cliff and plunges into a large body of water. A middle-aged fisherman (played by Raymond Pinharry) and his wife (played by Mary Makariou), who don’t have names in the movie, rescue Jake and give some medical attention to his wounds.

It’s soon apparent that Jake has amnesia. The fisherman’s wife takes him to a nearby U.S. Army camp. The commanding officer in charge is a stern and impatient leader named Captain Hickman (played by played by John Hickman), who orders a buffoonish subordinate named Tex (played by Eddie Steeples) to act as a translator. Tex isn’t very fluent in Burmese, so he predictably botches some of the translating.

That’s when the fisherman’s wife tells them about the cosmic portal and the outer-space death warrior, whom she calls Dat Daw Taung. These Army guys think it’s just a bunch of rambling gibberish from a superstitious person. Of course, there would be no “Jiu Jitsu” movie if what she was saying didn’t turn out to be true.

Soon, Jake finds himself being interrogated by an Army intelligence officer named Mya (played by Marie Avgeropoulos), a no-nonsense type who doesn’t know what to believe when Rick says that he has no idea who he is and what he’s doing there, but later he has a vague recollection: “I’m here to do a job.” Mya thinks that Jake might be some type of spy. He’s held captive until the Army figures out what to do with him.

While Jake is in captivity, another captive breaks free from the prison compound. His name is Kueng (played by Tony Jaa), and he insists that Jake go with him. They run off into a field together. And lo and behold, emerging from the field, like beanstalks suddenly spurting upward from the grass, are three other “warriors”: tough-talking Harrigan (played by Frank Grillo), quiet Forbes (played by Marrese Crump) and courageous Carmen (played by JuJu Chan), who not surprisingly ends up in a thrown-together romance with Jake.

And so, off these five “warriors” go as they kick, punch and wield weapons (such as swords, guns and knives), with an Army leader named Captain Sand (played by Rick Yune) in hot pursuit. Captain Sand has some forgettable subordinates who help him in this mission. The five renegades inevitably encounter Brax (played by Ryan Tarran), who quickly heals from any wounds, thereby making him hard to kill.

Brax is dressed in scaly armor and has a full-sized helmet that shows light blue space where a face should be. Occasionally, outlines of eyes and other facial features show up in this blue space, using cheap-looking visual effects. Brax’s point of view is shown a few times as X-ray vision that looks like it’s bathed in a heat glow. It’s a direct ripoff of Predator’s vision from the “Predator” movies.

Nicolas Cage shows up 39 minutes into the 102-minute “Jiu Jitsu,” which is just another B-movie where he plays yet another unhinged, eccentric character. In “Jiu Jitsu,” Cage is a wilderness-dwelling loner named Wylie, who ends up joining Jake and his team. Wylie seems to know quite a bit about Brax and gives advice, much of it unsolicited and sometimes unheeded. In his spare time, Wylie likes to make triangular hats out of newspapers. These hats are not the cone-shaped head coverings that used to be called “dunce caps” in the old days, although “dunce caps” would not be out of place in this dimwitted movie.

Cage’s total screen time in “Jiu Jitsu” is only about 15 to 20 minutes, but he does have one battle scene with Drax that seems to be the main reason why Cage was hired for this movie. Cage gives a deliberately hammy performance that’s meant to show he knows he’s in a stinker of a movie. However, his comedic self-awareness just seems out of place in a movie where all the other cast members act like they’re in a serious action film. If Cage is openly smirking, it might be because “Jiu Jitsu” was an easy multimillion-dollar salary for him. The joke is on the “Jiu Jitsu” producers who forked over the money for a rehashed and unoriginal performance that Cage has done in dozens of his forgettable action flicks.

Sometimes, when an action movie doesn’t care about having a good story, intriguing characters or memorable dialogue, the movie makes up for this lack of appeal by having dazzling action scenes. That’s not the case with “Jiu Jitsu,” which is filled with nothing but unimaginative fight sequences. None of the movie’s characters has an interesting story, although “Jiu Jitsu” tries to throw in a “plot twist/reveal” about the background of one of the characters. This “plot twist/reveal,” which is toward the end of the movie, is not surprising at all. The only thing surprising about “Jiu Jitsu” is that filmmakers actually thought that this abominable garbage wouldn’t be such a flop.

The Avenue Entertainment released “Jiu Jitsu” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 20, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment released the movie on DVD on December 22, 2020. “Jiu Jitsu” is also available on Netflix.

Review: ‘The Vanished’ (2020), starring Thomas Jane, Anne Heche, Jason Patric and Peter Facinelli

August 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anne Heche, Thomas Jane and Jason Patric in “The Vanished” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“The Vanished

Directed by Peter Facinelli

Culture Representation: Taking place in a rural part of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the dramatic thriller “The Vanished” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one African American/biracial person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife report their 10-year-old daughter missing during a camping trip, and they begin to suspect certain people around them are responsible for their daughter’s disappearance.

Culture Audience: “The Vanished” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching movies about mysteries with plot elements that defy logic.

Aleksei Archer, Kristophe Wente, Anne Heche and Thomas Jane in “The Vanished” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“The Vanished” is an appropriate title for this dramatic film if it’s used to describe all the common sense that disappears once the plot twist at the end of the movie is revealed. In order to believe the plot twist (which won’t be revealed in this review), you’d have to believe that a huge step was missed in a scene involving the investigation of a missing 10-year-old girl. That investigation is at the heart of this shambling and often-ludicrous movie, which was written and directed by Peter Facinelli.

Formerly titled “Hour of Lead” (which is an even worse title than the generic title “The Vanished”), the movie begins with a happy family trio in their RV camper as they head to a campsite in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Not much is detailed about married couple Paul (played by Thomas Jane) and Wendy (played by Anne Heche), such as what they do for a living or where they live, but they seem to have a loving, tight-knit family that includes their 10-year-old daughter Taylor (played by Kk Heim), who likes do sing-alongs with her parents. Also on the trip is the family’s dog: a pug named Lucky.

For whatever reason, the family has decided to take this trip to a remote camping site during the Thanksgiving holiday. (The movie’s story takes place over six days.) When they arrive at the check-in area, they are greeted by the gruff manager Tom (played by John Hickman), who tells them the campsite rules and mentions that the camping area is practically deserted because it’s a slow time of year.

The campsite also has a live-in groundskeeper named Justin Knowles (played by Alex Hayden), who’s in his early 20s, and he doesn’t appear to be very friendly either. When Wendy first sees Justin on the campsite, she gives him a polite wave, but he just frowns at her uncomfortably before going somewhere else. Justin acts nervous and awkward every time Wendy and Paul encounter him. It’s later revealed that Justin is a meth addict with a history of drug-related arrests.

The camping area isn’t that deserted because not long after settling in at the assigned parking spot, Paul meets one of the people whose camper is parked fairly close to his family’s camper. Her name is Miranda (played by Aleksei Archer), who’s in her 30s and physically attractive. Miranda is first seen by Tom while she’s relaxing in a bikini in a portable pool near her camper.

Paul ogles her while she gets out of the pool, they introduce themselves to each other, and they make small talk. Wendy isn’t around to see Paul’s wandering eyes, because at that moment, she’s in the campground’s convenience store (where Tom is the manager) to buy some food and supplies. During Paul and Miranda’s conversation, there’s some underlying attraction/sexual tension between them, which inevitably becomes a problem later in the story. Miranda mentions that she’s on this camping trip with her husband Eric (played by Kristophe Wente), whom Paul and Wendy eventually meet.

When Wendy comes back from the store, she and Paul are shocked to find out that Taylor has gone missing. Taylor was supposed to be in the camper while Wendy was at the store, but apparently Taylor disappeared without a trace while Paul was outside talking to Miranda. The local police are soon on the scene when they are called to look for the missing child.

A no-nonsense local cop named Sheriff Baker (played by Jason Patric) is heading the investigation, with assistance from his loyal second-in-command named Deputy Rakes (played by Facinelli). A fairly large search party begins looking for Taylor in the vast wooded area of the campsite. Meanwhile, a frantic Wendy and Paul are told that they cannot join the search party. Sheriff Baker tells the spouses that they should stay near their camper and wait to hear any news from the police.

After 24 hours have passed and Taylor still hasn’t been found, Wendy and Paul go to the police station to officially file a missing persons report. At the station, they express their irritation and discomfort over being questioned as if they might be responsible for Taylor’s disappearance. However, Sheriff Baker tells Paul and Wendy that it’s standard procedure to investigate the parents when a child goes missing.

Paul and Wendy find out at the police station that an escaped prisoner is suspected of being in the area. While waiting in their camper at night, Wendy becomes increasingly agitated and resentful that she and Paul can’t join in the search party. Against Paul’s better judgment, she convinces him to go with her to do their own search, away from the police’s team.

During their secret search, Paul and Wendy find a man sleeping while he’s camping by himself in the woods. This mystery man has a gun, so Wendy assumes it’s the escaped prisoner and that he must know something about Taylor’s disappearance. And let’s just say that Wendy takes the gun, becomes a little too trigger-happy, and that leads to more problems for the couple.

It’s not really a spoiler to mention this plot development, because a lot of what happens in the movie is revealed in the trailer for “The Vanished.” It’s enough to say that Wendy becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea that everyone could be a suspect in Taylor’s disappearance. Paul eventually gets caught up in Wendy’s distrusting mindset. And some reckless actions happen as a result of this paranoia.

Wendy and Paul decide to take the investigation into their own hands—and more complications ensue. Their increasingly illogical actions are explained in the movie as probably cased by sleep deprivation, but even that reason wears thin when Paul and Wendy start doing things that would severely hurt their chances of finding Taylor and just get themselves in more trouble. Heche is more convincing than Jane as a parent who is panic-stricken to find a missing child, but her performance eventually starts to become one-note as the rest of the story unfolds.

Overall, there’s nothing inherently bad about the acting in “The Vanished.” The directing is also adequate, but nothing special. It’s the movie’s clumsily structured screenplay that ruined the potential of “The Vanished” being a good thriller. The plot twist seems like an idea that was thought of first, and then the story was built around that idea in ways that were ill-conceived and then written in a sloppy manner.

It’s as if writer/director Facinelli made the assumption that viewers wouldn’t notice certain glaring omissions from the story that were deliberately left out in order for the plot twist to look like it should compatible with the rest of the movie. The plot twist is meant to elevate the story, but it just ends up sinking the movie, which was already drowning in a swamp of implausibility.

Saban Films released “The Vanished” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 21, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment will release “The Vanished” on DVD on October 20, 2020.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix