"Kickboxer 2" (citywide) is better than "Kickboxer," the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle that spawned it. But you have to realize this is a relative judgment, since that first movie, with Van Damme and company twirl-kicking their way through Thailand, is widely regarded as a cinematic disgrace--albeit a very lucrative disgrace.
Perhaps this is appropriate. The whole idea of disgrace--and the insane lengths to which some men, particularly those involved in kickboxing, will go to avenge it--is at the very core of "Kickboxer 2."
As we open the movie (which has neat Albert Pyun direction and snazzy George Mooradian cinematography), Van Damme and his brother are dead, both killed by the same truly terrifying villain: Michel Qissi as Tong Po, a glowering, bare-chested fiend with a rakish pigtail. Only Brother No. 3, David Sloan, a keep-your-center California kickboxer, is left, running a school where the neighborhood poor kids get in for free.
David is played by Sasha Mitchell, who debuted in "Death Before Dishonor," another movie touchy about disgrace, then detoured into Paul Morrissey's "Spike of Bensonhurst," where he fit right into Morrissey's galaxy of laid-back street Adonises. Like Joe D'Allesandro, Mitchell is a magnetically narcissistic actor. He radiates sarcastic self-love, which makes his impersonation of a selfless, devoted teacher of youth, unexcited by hype or money, all the more provocative.
But disgrace must be avenged, obliterated. So muses the evil but slick Mr. Sangha (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the entrepreneur nursing some secret, bitter hurt involving Van Damme. So muses Matthias Hues as Neil Vargas, an insanely sadistic world kickboxing champ.
So muses David, after these crazed monsters burn down his school, kill a little boy, and ruin his life, exiling him to slum rooms with beer-commercial lighting. So muses Peter Boyle as the sleaze-bag promoter Maciah, no doubt also reflecting on the days when he was making movies like "Taxi Driver" and "Joe."
And so muses the monstrous Tong Po--itching to add a third Sloan to his gallery--and warming up for the kill by participating in the dirtiest movie boxing match in years: climaxed by the surly Tong throwing the ref out of the ring, kicking the commissioner in the groin and killing his opponent by stomping him to death.
After this lollapalooza, the climactic fight of "Kickboxer 2" (rated R for violence), with David and Tong Po battling with glass-studded gloves, is almost an anti-climax. Needless to say, disgrace is avenged, and new disgraces perpetrated, so that the cycle of disgrace and revenge--or, at any rate, of kickboxer movies--will stretch on endlessly, like ripples on the ocean, perhaps all the way back to Bangkok, or at least to Hollywood and Vine.
David Sloan: Sasha Mitchell
Justin Maciah: Peter Boyle
Mr. Sangha: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Xian Chow: Dennis Chan
A Trimark Pictures presentation of a Kings Road Entertainment production. Director Albert Pyun. Producer Tom Karnowski. Screenplay by David S. Goyer. Cinematographer George Mooradian. Editor Alan E. Baumgarten. Music Tony Riparetti. Production design Nicholas T. Preovolos. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (violence).