Kurt Sloane (Alain Moussi) arrives in Thailand and heads over to the compound of Tong Po (Dave Bautista), who is one of the most accomplished martial artists in the world and not only acts as mentor to a host of pupils, but still competes in tournaments that more often than not he wins. Sloane raps on the door and when it is opened by Kavi (Georges St-Pierre) he politely demands entry so he can join Tong Po's school, and eventually persuades him only to have to square off against Kavi to prove he really has what it takes to be a fighter. They both seem equally matched until Sloane demonstrates the upper hand and kicks his opponent to the ground, thus admitting him to the establishment - but he has an ulterior motive for being there.
The original Kickboxer is still enough to make fight flick fans rhapsodise for hours about how enjoyable it is, with some even going as far as calling it a cult classic. If it wasn't that, it did enjoy a substantial fanbase, and because of this there were a succession of sequels, more or less in name only, that were rather less well thought of, though evidently they were profitable as eventually we were given the inevitable reboot treatment with Kickboxer: Vengeance. This was significant because the first Kurt Sloane, Jean-Claude Van Damme, returned to the series for the first time since the late eighties, though not, as you will have guessed, as the main character. Nope, here he was the mentor and trainer.
No, not Tong Po, he was the baddie, this was a different person, Master Durand (a role that was initially meant for Tony Jaa until he dropped out), and after Moussi's Sloane gets booted out of the school for the crime of trying to shoot Tong Po in the head for the effrontery of killing his brother in a combat match, he joins forces with Durand. Therefore those training sequences saw Van Damme doing the tutoring, but not much in the way of fighting, which in light of how theoretically as an action star he was getting on a bit and should be slowing down looked to be an excuse for him to do the barest minimum to justify his paycheque. Even in the climactic setpiece, he just stood there making encouraging gestures and comments, literally sidelined.
This would have been fine, but his replacement was lacking in his predecessor's charisma. Say what you like about Van Damme, that his ego outweighed his acting talent or that his movies were pretty cheese-tastic considering how seriously we were supposed to take them, but he did have star quality, not something you could observe about Moussi. He was a stunt performer and professional fighter, but as with the other performers in the same professions here, as actors they made fine brawlers, not one of them here managing a convincing line reading, and Gina Carano, who played the promoter who arranges for Sloane and Tong Po to knock seven bells out of one another at the end, didn't even get to so much as throw a punch, a bizarre choice though then again, it's not clear who she could have fought.
All that said, who wants to watch a film called Kickboxer: Vengeance for the acting? There is one scene which attempted the naffer elements of the original, and that was Moussi busting a few Van Damme dance moves under the end credits, which suggested a direction to go in that might have been more enjoyable than what we ended up with. It was unlikely this would go on to the following and appreciation the first one had, which gave rise to the suspicion that it was being created strictly for the money and hiring Van Damme (and his double) was a cynical move to connect it to his version without doing much else to justify the fans' interest. Granted, the combat was probably better choreographed this time out, though we still had the far too prevalent fast-cutting editing that rendered it anyone's guess whether these guys were any good or not, or if it was all technique delivered in post-production, but too many of the diehards were finding this new variation squandering their goodwill that the original had in spades. Music by Adam Dorn.
[Kaleidoscope's Blu-ray looks and sounds clear and crisp, with a featurette - interview snippets, basically - and the trailer as extras.]