Twice the action, twice the adventure—zero the refund!
Just when you thought it was safe to…well, do whatever it was that you weren't doing because it wasn't safe, here comes Kickboxer 3 and Kickboxer 4—together on the same DVD, and…
Hey, where are you going? Come back here! Wait a second!
Facts of the Case
Kickboxer 3, ironically, features very little kickboxing. The occasional terrible gunfight, sure, but the rest is filled with—God help us—acting and plot development. It makes one shudder. World kickboxing champion David Sloan (Sasha Mitchell) travels to Rio de Janeiro to compete in a kickboxing tournament, and ends up getting distracted by the troubles of a young homeless lady and her urchin of a kid brother. When a wealthy American pimp kidnaps her and forces her into sexual slavery, Sloan is on the case—but luckily, still manages the time to fight in the tournament, so if you were worried, fret not.
Kickboxer 4, at the very least, makes an attempt to get back to the basics, by reinstating the good ol' villain from the original Kickboxing movie (and the second one, now that I think about it), the ever-lovable, teddy-bearish Tong Po, who bizarrely, bears more than a passing resemblance to Goro of the Mortal Kombat movie. (Goro was a monster with four arms. Go figure.)
The film continues from where Kickboxing 2 left off, as if the third film never happened (not a bad assumption). Tong Po kidnaps Sloan's wife and forces her to be his sexual slave (why this is a re-occurring theme, I have no idea). Of course, Sloan is angry, and ends up kicking a lot of people in the face to get her back. I think there was a martial arts tournament in there somewhere too, but it was hard to keep up with the taut and complex plot developments.
What—you've made it this far in the review? Really? Wow.
Kickboxer 4, as a whole, is preferable to Kickboxer 3, but this is akin to choosing between being hanged with regular rope, or with a soft synthetic poly-blend rope. The problem with Kickboxer 3 is that it makes a flailing attempt to have a heart, which is a terrible snafu for any self-respecting action movie franchise (ha!) because even the most junior assistant hack in Hollywood knows we only want to see more of the same. New things just scare us.
The third film is lighter, airier, and sillier than the other films, but holy cow, so lame and terrible. Avoid it at all costs. Not that the fourth film is any better, per se, but at least Kickboxer 4 returns to an old formula, tries to recreate an old formula, capture a shred of dignity, and (dare I say it?) actually does succeed at times. And, in case you were wondering, the majority (ha!) of the points awarded in this review go toward Kickboxer 4, because man, Kickboxer 3 is lame.
In the Kickboxer series, welcome to adventures in bad stereotypes. For example, in Kickboxer 3, we have the quiet, but beautiful, down on her luck homeless girl, her rough-and-tumble, street tough kid brother (who seems miscast as a kid from Brooklyn instead of Rio), the Chinese trainer who wears traditional Chinese clothes and speaks in dumbed-down proverbs of wisdom (who, I swear, talks exactly like a freaky Chinese robot), and of course, my personal favorite—the California surfer turned kickboxer champion of the world.
Played by Sasha Mitchell of Step By Step fame, this guy's a riot. He really looks and acts like he should be out hanging all sorts of tens, instead of chasing people around with guns in Rio (wasn't this a kickboxing movie?). But he's actually the best part of these movies, which, sadly, isn't saying much. Really, he's not so bad. He definitely had the physique of a kickboxer—lean, athletic, slightly lanky, with freakishly long legs (all the better to kick you in the face with, my dear). But his California surfer exterior seems at odds with his ass-kicking ways, like Jeff Spicoli doing karate, or like Ted from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure doing kung fu.
Okay, I was out of line on that last one. That would just be silly.
The action in both films is horrifyingly lame, though much improved in Kickboxer 4. Sloan, for example, is in great shape, and looks like a bad mutha to fight, but really, he's too slow; his actions seem mistimed—even more so than his dialogue. The best action sequences in these two films involve Godfather-esque punches that clearly miss the intended target's face by a good three inches, but send the protagonist flying backwards into a wall. Now that's good martial arts!
The audio quality on this DVD is a sad, struggling thing to behold. Both films are presented in iffy Dolby 2.0 mixes that leave much to be desired. Kickboxer 3 sounds like absolute trash, with a corny, synthesized soundtrack that sounds like a Twin Peaks / Miami Vice crossover spectacular. Kickboxer 4 sounds much better, with the punches and kicks making satisfying thumps and bumps through your speakers, but the mix is dreadful, laden with annoying subwoofer swishes that run almost continually throughout the picture. I kept waiting for my ears to suddenly start bleeding as I watched the picture, but then, I just turned down the bass.
Visual quality? Hold on, I must have had something crazy stuck in my ear. That sure sounded like an oxymoron to me.
When watching the first few opening scenes in Kickboxer 3, I could have sworn that I made a mistake and had accidentally tuned into an episode of The A-Team. Vaguely tropical-esque locale, men with guns in white linen suits with pink dress shirts, big blocky white lettering for the credits, terribly bad music, and dreadful, dreadful visual quality that looks like the film was recorded on a cigar wrapper instead of, you know, actual film. The quality of this film, visually, is actually worse than the movie itself, which I never imagined could be possible.
Kickboxer 4 manages to look slightly better, with more vibrant colors, deeper black levels, and better picture quality overall. But overall, both pictures are heavily scratched and damaged, extraordinarily washed out and bland (Kickboxer 3 looks like it was processed in bleach) and absolutely mangled into a terrifying full screen presentation that sets my teeth on edge.
Okay, pay attention now. The back of the DVD proudly states that Kickboxer 3 / Kickboxer 4 are "presented in 1.33:1 format in which the film was shot." Got that? Then, amusingly, directly above it, it states that the films have been "formatted from its original version to fit your screen."
Careful now. If you look at both of these sentences in rapid succession, your brain will crawl out your left ear, climb down your body, slide down your hallway, head to the nearest bus shelter, catch a cross-town bus to the airport, ooze its way through customs, and catch the next available flight into the side of a mountain.
Many of my fellow judges have, in the past, pointed out this, and other fallacies regarding the inconsistencies stated on the packaging of Artisan's fine DVD line. Those judges deserve your sympathy, not I, for they have felt the pain repeatedly on more than one occasion.
Personally, my guess is, over at Artisan, they just have one template for the back of a DVD, and merely change the photos around. Which, if you think about it in a certain way, may actually be quite a subtle social commentary regarding self-loathing towards a consumable and disposable culture. Therefore, Artisan gains three points for having a lascivious sense of humor, but, unfortunately, loses a total of four hundred and ninety-three points for releasing a DVD so amazingly ridiculous and stupid that it makes your eyes bleed.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All right, I admit it; I had a lot of fun watching and reviewing Kickboxer 3 / Kickboxer 4. Just probably not for the reasons the filmmakers intended. They are almost fun, in a pre-op brain surgery sort of way. While Kickboxer 3 sucked about as hard as a film can reasonably suck before it collapses into itself and vanishes, at least Kickboxer 4 is dumb, silly, and full of hard-kicking action.
I mean, don't get me wrong—it still sucks. It's just a more preferable kind of sucking.
Also, it's weird doing a rebuttal where you are trying to think of nice things to say about a DVD. Or at least, nicer things.
Kickboxer 3 / Kickboxer 4 certainly lives up to its kickboxing name. All I know is, I want to muai thai this DVD to a tree, then chop down the tree, then stick the tree into a wood chipper, then take the woodchips and use them to construct cheap furniture, then take an ax to the furniture, then burn the pieces, then bury the ashes into the ground, then plant a seedling into the ground. Then, I would go rent another copy and repeat the process.
With every new Artisan release, they seemingly lower the bar another foot for quality DVD releases everywhere. Last I heard, the bar was now somewhere near the center of the earth.
This presentation of Kickboxer 3 / Kickboxer 4, along with addressing numerous questions about a man kicking a lot of other men in the face, raises the timeless and socially relevant question: how is this DVD even worth my time?
But I consider it good training. Us review-type people are going to need our strength. After all—they did make a Kickboxer 5.
Be afraid. The day that shows up at my doorstep, I may consider moving.
Or, burning my house down. Then moving.
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