Jiu Jitsu Review: Jiu Jitsu
The actual martial art is a lot more exciting than this movie.
Jiu Jitsu, directed by Dimitri Logothetis, is part science fiction, part action/martial arts and part fantasy. It is a genre mash-up that incorporates swordplay with good ol’ fisticuffs, but has aliens and more mystical elements. On paper it is, at the very least, interesting in what it is trying to accomplish. However, in practice, it cannot juggle any of its elements very well.
I recently posted an article titled “The Top 5 Nicolas Cage Movies Since 2010” where I discussed five of the best movies/performances that the man has put in over the past decade. This is not one of them. He’s hamming it up but not in the endearing way you might expect. It tries to go a little bit meta later on to explain away the erratic nature of his performance but it feels like too little, too late. Cage being in this is exactly what people would point to when they say he can’t act anymore–he can, but this is a decent argument to the contrary.
We can’t place all of the blame at the feet of Cage, however. He’s not the main protagonist even if he is one of the first people to technically show up. He’s actually absent from a decent chunk of the movie. His presence is important to the development of a certain character and the story as a whole, but Alain Moussi’s character is at the forefront.
Not that it would matter either way. It makes sure that the martial arts combat is the most prestigious aspect of the flick–naming the film after it and making it crucial to the plot itself–but it has some of the least impactful fighting I’ve seen recently.
Oh, c’mon now.
It’s bland and lacks any oomph whatsoever. People hit one another, as you might expect, but it’s not crunchy. You would be forgiven for not even knowing that anybody was hit because it’s almost impossible to feel it sometimes. Reactions are slow a lot of the time or occasionally non-existent, and the sounds that accompany them are not pronounced enough to add emphasis to the strikes.
On top of that it misuses slow-mo worst than Zack Snyder’s 300. It’s not that it goes long stretches with constant slow-mo, but it often places it at the end of a punch, kick or throw–presumably to showcase how devastating it is. The issue is, it looks silly. It’s overused to the point of ridiculousness; there’s a part where a random dude is just shooting a gun and I swear it uses it there too. Effective action does not require you to drop the frame rate to allow us to see it. Trust me, we see it.
This complete misunderstanding of fundamentals is a big problem. You can accentuate the positives of a collision or a scene by placing slow-mo in ideal spots, but you also need a solid foundation to make it feel earned. I never once felt that the placement spun the scenes in a more positive direction. It just shined a light on the ugliness. Even Tony Jaa, who is otherwise known for this type of content, is just left in the cold.
Music can drastically alter how a scene is perceived, as anybody who watches movies knows. It can manipulate the viewer into feeling a certain way, even if without music the context would feel different. Here, in Jiu Jitsu, the music is so uninspired and repetitive that it actually sucks the energy out of everything it touches. I couldn’t get over how boring it was; it droned on, hardly changing or morphing to fit the action on screen. It was just there, perhaps to hide the sound mixing for the hitting itself?
Emotional scenes never climaxed because it didn’t have the chops musically to push it forward. All the music did was pronounce how humdrum the fight choreography was. I couldn’t sit there and invest in what was going on when the soundtrack was trying to push me away. It mirrors the action in that it also lacks any degree of potency… or urgency.
What the movie constantly did to me.
Across the board the acting is terrible, but the script certainly doesn’t help it. These actors, for the most part, could do much better work if they had something to go off. Unfortunately, the writing only does the bare minimum to progress the story–which means that it describes the situation with minimal effort, only to get to the next fight scene. It follows typical conventions but doesn’t add any unique flavour to it. The dialogue isn’t organic, it’s more like people just yelling plot points out.
They like to say “jiu jitsu” so much that it starts to feel a little bit like the Metal Gear Solid series and its reliance on “nanomachines.” The difference is, Metal Gear has a lot going for it–it’s the best video game franchise ever–and even though “nanomachines” is a meme, it’s still charming. You might as well say that jiu jitsu is God in this universe.
Does it even attempt to produce anything memorable on a narrative level? I don’t think so. Visually it’s washed out and its only personality is darkness–likely to symbolize the oncoming catastrophe–so in that sense it does try to mimic its story with how it presents itself, I guess. I can give it that, even if that is hardly worthy of a celebration.
Believe it or not, I had hope for Jiu Jitsu. It doesn’t have the most talented ensemble cast in the world but there are some decent names who excel in this format. I’m consistently attentive to whatever Nic Cage will do next, even while being aware that there’s a large probability at this point that the film itself will be either mediocre or atrocious. There’s never a point where I wish for a film to be bad, but I have to call it like it is: Jiu Jitsu is one of the worst movies of 2020. At this stage in the game it’s likely that it graces lists since we are nearing the finale of 2020. It’s a shame, but at least we got jiu jitsu.
THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
THE WORLD CREATED JIU JITSU, JIU JITSU CREATED THE WORLD. JIU JITSU!
Unfortunately Jiu Jitsu collapses under the weight of its own ambitions. There are decent ideas in the premise but they aren’t fleshed out, and the rest of the movie just can’t stack up to it. It’s poor on pretty much every level.