American Kickboxer 2 (1993)

A common scare tactic in health class curriculum offered in middle and high school is to reinforce to impressionable teenagers that when they decide to have sex with someone, they’re not having sex with that person alone. They’re also having sex with every other person that person has had sex with previously. When the co-protagonists of AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2 are paired up by their mutual ex-lover to find her kidnapped daughter, this notion — that the two macho meatheads have effectively had sex together — bubbles beneath an already dysfunctional mismatch of personalities. How difficult a task could you complete in the same scenario? As a team, could you assemble IKEA furniture? Survive a day in the remote outdoors without your phones? Could you solve a kidnapping and return the victim to their loved ones unscathed? It’s a difficult proposition for any film to intelligently handle, let alone a low-budget direct-to-video action movie sequel completely disconnected from its predecessor in story or character universe.

The film begins with a charming depiction of pool-side domestic bliss. Lillian (Kathy Shower) is a curvaceous blond businesswoman married to Howard (David Graf), a swell guy far beyond a reasonable walking distance from being in her league. Not only is Howard lucky 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 into the pool for a dip on a warm day, nothing could be more perfect.

What immediately follows is one of the most amazing and impractical kidnapping sequences in cinema history. As her parents are in the kitchen playing hanky-panky under the loud whir of a blender, Susie is kidnapped by a man suspended from a helicopter hovering over the pool. (Before the entrance, they shot the security team with poisonous darts first). You would think that on the decibel scale, a helicopter hovering right outside your window would be louder than a kitchen appliance. Not so, in the universe of AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2. Howard and Lillian stop dry-humping just in time to see their daughter airlifted away, and the kidnapper places a prompt phone call to their home line during the getaway. Played by character actor 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 dangerous kidnappers, Lillian recruits more appropriate people to handle the matter: two of her studly former boyfriends.

Ex-lay number one is hard-nosed cop Mike Clark, played by five-time world champion kickboxer, Dale “Apollo” Cook. The violence he sees in his occupation has a history of bleeding into his personal life; Lillian left him due to his angry and 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 his hair and chasing girls than the assignment, but Lurie’s stoner-sensei performance 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 unconvincingly pretending to be landscapers at Lillian’s house, the odd couple begins to gather clues, follow leads, and bust heads (not necessarily in that order). The owner of a helicopter rental outfit (played by Filipino direct-to-video 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. There are places to go and people to see, and they are all poorly lit.

Considering the budget, era, and intended home video audience, it can’t be too surprising that the fight scenes in the film are stilted in rhythm and a buck short on creativity, but director Jeno Hodi (DEADLY OBSESSION, GUNS AND LIPSTICK) attempts to fix these flaws by substituting frequency for quality. This is an unfortunate approach given the personnel, because as evidenced by his work in the Hong Kong production of DEADEND BESIEGERS, Dale Cook can definitely bring the fighting goods with the right creative vision in place.

While Ned Hourani’s henchman character isn’t a huge part of the story, his fighting skills could have been utilized to better effect as well. Lurie and Cook have a short but decent scrap in the mud during some heavy rain that looks pretty good cinematically speaking, but makes for a better brawl than a stand-up martial arts contest. There is also a jail cell fight centered on the limitations of handcuffs coupled with the fear of sexual assault. The warehouse action and climax are engaging for the zany Filipino action movie fun factor of it all. But while the hand-to-hand action is frequent, so are the poor choices in viewing angles and editing — e.g., you can see a camera operator casting a shadow in a key shot — and it’s unfortunate the efforts of the on-screen stars and stunt team members were undercut by rushed production techniques and probable missing coverage.

One of the elements that can help to push a 1990s DTV 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) — and don’t let the screenshots fool you — but there was a disappointing dearth 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: threatening 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 originals, AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2 is a pretty good kick to the pills. Those familiar with Filipino action films from the late 1980s and early 1990s will find a lot to chew on between the familiar faces and genre trappings, and you have to give the filmmakers a bit of credit for giving each performer an actual character to play. Their frequent head-butting and contrast in characterization gives the film an engaging quality throughout its tidy 93-minute runtime.

This content was originally posted at Fist of B-List

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