Depending on who you ask and where you look, the true origins of Jiu Jitsu are shrouded in mystery. We know that history mentions a form of grappling as early as 710 AD, but what about the time before that? Was there a big bang moment? A combat genesis? Has Jiu Jitsu been with us since the inception of our small blue planet? Is it an elemental truth that mankind is still struggling to comprehend?
No. It was an alien. Jiu Jitsu was invented by an alien named Brax. At least that’s how it went down according to Nicolas Cage.
Dimitri Logothetis’ new film Jiu Jitsu stars a dream team of martial artists and all-around tough folks - Tony Jaa, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, Marrese Crump and Alain Moussi make up Logothetis’ version of The Expendables here. Moussi, who helped Logothetis reboot the Kickboxer franchise is the lead, playing an amnesiac martial arts master who, after a mysterious attack by some flying CGI blades, forgot everything he knew - his enemies, his friends, his mission. Everything except how to fight.
And fight he does. Moussi is not great as a lead. He can barely get emotion behind his words, which should be an asset when it comes to playing an amnesiac cipher, but even that seems to be trouble for him. The fighting doesn’t seem to be a problem though. Watching him throw his massive frame around is really compelling, even if it’s not strictly Jiu Jitsu he’s doing. According to Logothetis, there’s a good reason for that.
“I didn’t want to be stuck in kung fu. I didn’t want to be stuck in Muay Thai. The team that I put together are all authentic martial artists...You see the expertise and the athleticism. And here that isn’t barred by any specific martial art.”
So it’s not just aliens in arm bars for 90 minutes. Each fighter has a ‘thing’ - you can almost see the stats on the player select screen. Jaa uses nightsticks made out of lead pipes, different from Marrese Crump who uses a regular ol' lead pipe. JuJu Chan shoots crossbow bolts from a wrist-mounted launcher. Frank Grillo brawls with two daggers, and Nicolas Cage, well...Nicolas Cage does his best.
Cage does fight in the movie, we’ll give him that. His scenes alternate between close ups and distant stunt double choreography, answering the question “What if Nic Cage got into a swordfight with an alien?” which is maybe the 50th weirdest thing he’s done on screen. But you’re not here to watch Cage display martial arts ability. You’re here to watch him go full-wacko and breathe bug-eyed life into yet another straight-to-streaming slugfest.
So does he? Does he go full wacko? He does! He has a gift for disregarding badly written scripts, creating his own characters with their own quirks. In this film he’s described by the director as “our Obi-Wan Kenobi”, but he’s styled like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. He has a piano in his cave, he never seems to be able to get a decent meal, he hides a wicked blade in his walking stick, and he’s tasked with delivering all the half-baked sci-fi exposition about an alien coming to earth on a comet every six years to fight our greatest warriors to the death...or something. Of course, with his limited time on screen, he knocks it all out of the park in a spray of bad CGI blood.
But is the movie good? It depends on how many of these straight-to-streaming martial arts things you watch. The lack of real blood and viscera keeps it from reaching the gory ecstasy of something like Iko Uwais in The Night Comes For Us. The fights move at a strange tempo, doing a budget version of the Zack Snyder mid-fight-speed-and-framerate-switching thing, which actually seems to lessen each fight, so you won’t get to the “holy shit” levels of an average Scott Adkins real-time brawl.
So as a fight movie, it’s somewhere in the middle. The arts are truly impressive, but the editing and some of the weird filming techniques (like switching from ‘first person shooter cam’ to third person and back again in the same shot) just detract from the finished product.
And as a film, the stakes are not communicated, no one knows why they’re fighting or even where. The sense of place is just wild - I’ll give anyone a thousand dollars if they can explain where anyone is in relation to anyone else in this movie - and the scifi stuff about Brax and a comet and a history of Jiu Jitsu is all just ridiculous, no matter how hard Nicolas Cage tries to sell it.
Should you watch it? Yeah, if you like these actors and if you need a shot of some mid-bonkers level Nicolas Cage stuff. But if you’re looking for a better blend of martial arts and sci-fi in a readily streamable package, watch Beyond Skyline instead. You’ll lose a Nic Cage, trade a Tony Jaa for an Iko Uwais, gain a Yayan Ruhian and keep the Frank Grillo experience. And if you’re still ready for more, Jiu Jitsu isn’t going anywhere. At least not until Brax and his comet come back around again.
Jiu Jitsu is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.