Director: Jeno Hodi
Writers: Jeno Hodi, Paul Wolansky, Greg Lewis (additional dialogue), Dan Mirvish (additional dialogue)
Cast: Evan Lurie, Dale Cook, Ted Markland, Kathy Shower, David Graf, Nick Nicholson, Ned Hourani
The first time I rented Troll 2, I remember being pissed that it had nothing to do with its predecessor. Instead of a poorly made fantasy film with bad special effects and terrible acting, I watched a poorly made horror film with no special effects and terrible acting. The “sequel in name only” is not endemic of any one genre but seems to crop up a lot with action films. More often than not, it’s a sleazy viewer grab for what is usually an inferior film. In rare cases -- exemplified recently by Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans -- you get two unique and eminently watchable (though unrelated) movies. Add 1993’s American Kickboxer 2 to that list, right above the Bad Lieutenant entries. Not because it’s more unique or more watchable, but because it begins with the letter A and you keep all your list alphabetized as a result of your obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The film begins with a charming depiction of poolside domestic bliss. Lillian (Shower) is a curvaceous blond businesswoman married to Howard (Graf), a swell guy not even close to being in her league. Not only is Howard lucky enough to be her husband and stepfather to her daughter, Susie, but he’s also involved in a lucrative business her deceased father left to her and her uncle. As the adults head inside to make smoothies and Susie hops in for a dip, nothing could be more perfect.
What soon follows is one of the more amazing kidnapping sequences you’ll see. As her parents are in the kitchen playing hanky-panky to the loud whir of a blender, Susie is getting kidnapped from the pool by a man suspended from a helicopter hovering overhead. (Duh, he shot the security team with poisonous darts first). You would think that on the decibel scale, a helicopter in your fucking backyard would trump a kitchen appliance. Not so in the universe of American Kickboxer 2. Howard and Lillian stop dry humping in time to see their daughter airlifted away, and the kidnapper places a phone call to their home line during the getaway. Played by character actor veteran and skullet enthusiast Ted Markland, the dastardly Xavier is holding their daughter for a $2 million ransom and promises to kill her if they involve the authorities.
Despite the fact that her husband is warm, loving, and has a mind for business, it’s important to remember that he’s also the pudgy guy who played Eugene Tackleberry in the long-running Police Academy franchise. Instead of relying on him to hunt down the kidnappers, Lillian recruits more appropriate people to handle the matter: two dudes she used to bang.
Ex-lay number one is hard-nosed cop Mike Clark, played by five-time world champion … uh, something ... Dale “Apollo” Cook. The violence he sees in his occupation has unfortunately carried over into his personal life and Lillian left him due to his occasionally abusive nature. He’s high-strung, talks fast, and goes nowhere without a toothpick in his mouth. The second blast from the past is David, a motorcycle enthusiast and martial arts instructor. Played by PM Entertainment stalwart Evan Lurie, David is the yin to Mike’s yang: placid, laid-back, and very pensive. David seems more concerned with the appearance of his hair and chasing girls than the assignment, but his manner actually works well as a counterpoint to Cook’s over-the-top and tightly-wound portrayal of Mike.
After brawling in the parking lot of a McDonald’s and pretending to be landscapers at Lillian’s house, the odd couple begins to gather clues and follow leads. The owner of a helicopter rental outfit (played by Filipino DTV favorite Nick Nicholson) points them in the direction of a mysterious man with a shark tattoo. That clue leads them to a bar, which leads them to a massage parlor, which leads them to a warehouse, and you’ve seen this plot before and you get the picture.
Considering the budget, era, and intended home video audience, it can’t be terribly surprising that the fight scenes in the film are stilted in rhythm and short on creativity, but Hodi attempts to remedy these flaws by substituting frequency for quality. This is a bit unfortunate, because as evidenced by his work in the Hong Kong production of Deadend Besiegers, Dale Cook can definitely bring the goods with the right creative vision in place. While Ned Hourani’s henchman character isn’t a huge part of the story, his skills -- on fuller display in Fighting Spirit -- could have been utilized to better effect as well. Lurie has a pretty entertaining fight in a packed jail cell while handcuffed that seamlessly integrates light comedy and prison-rape phobia. He and Cook have a short but decent scrap in the mud during some heavy rain that looks pretty good visually but makes for a better brawl than a stand-up martial arts contest. The warehouse action and climax are all engaging for the zany Filipino fun factor of it all. But while the hand-to-hand action is frequent, so are the poor choices in viewing angles and editing and it’s unfortunate the efforts of the on-screen talent was betrayed by those on the production end. If you have a hankering for technically solid fights, American Kickboxer 2 won’t satisfy that hunger. Watch Drunken Master II or eat a banana instead.
One of the elements that can help to push a chopsocky film into upper-echelon cheesy-good territory is memorable dialogue. I don’t know if it was a consequence of having so many scribes involved -- two of which were dedicated solely to dialogue -- but there were no more than a handful of good lines (the “best” of which, IMO: “Your ass is grass, and we’re the lawnmowers.”) The script relies instead on the argumentative dynamic between the leads and the silly scenarios in which they find themselves: rapey holding cells, shady massage parlors, and the many brawls in mud, at bars, and on beaches.
As far as action sequels which have no relationship whatsoever to their predecessors, American Kickboxer 2 is a pretty good kick to the pills. Those familiar with Filipino action films from the late 1980s to early 1990s will find a lot to chew on between the familiar faces and genre trappings. I haven’t gone very far down the roads of Cook Street or Lurie Boulevard, but I give the filmmakers credit for giving each performer an actual character to play, even if they were both douchey in their own special ways. Their frequent head-butting and contrast in characterization gives the film an engaging quality throughout its tidy 93-minute runtime.
Readily available on Netflix, Amazon, EBay.
5 / 7