Jiu Jitsu (2020) DVD Review: Wasted Potential

At this point in his career, when Nicolas Cage does a paycheck movie (which feels like one every week), a viewer would expect the movie to fully embrace the Oscar-winning actor’s over-the-top style. It is especially expected if it has a premise like Jiu Jitsu. It’s basically warriors versus aliens, and Cage is seen wearing a hat made out of newspaper. It’s ripe for his wide-eyed, rage-shouting Cage-isms with which we’re all too familiar and that surprisingly never gets old. But the last-credit placement of Cage’s name on the DVD cover unintentionally serves as a warning that his presence is not as prominent as we would want it to be.

Jiu Jitsu is the name of a group of fighters led by Keung (Jaa), who assist our main character Jake (Moussi), after he loses a battle with Brax, the leader of the invading aliens, and struggles to regain his memory. It’s the typical plot of them having to band together to protect Earth from being overtaken, and we’re told exactly what the plot is by some of the characters. There’s nothing more to it. As much as one would wish for it to fully embrace its banality, the film mostly takes a more serious and rote approach.

The first 40 minutes of Jiu Jitsu are spent trying to follow everything that is thrown at the viewer. Opening like it wants to be a comic book movie, animated cell formatting and all, it then transitions into a bunch of different action sequences that vary from being well shot to being sloppily put together. One scene featuring Tony Jaa is done in an extended take, which is impressive. Another is done in first-person and isn’t as impressive, especially when its main star (Alain Moussi), comes out from behind the camera to continue fighting.  

For a movie that features actors who do most of their own stunts, some of the stunt work comes off as cheap as a home movie. An actor kicks someone, and it’s easy to see the kick actually did not land. The timing of the person who received said kick is also delayed in several scenes. These are people who are experienced in receiving blows to the body, and it appears as if they’ve never done this before.

The comic book approach lasts throughout the whole movie, for no particular reason whatsoever. It comes off as something that director Dimitrie Logothetis wanted to do, and no one wanted to inform him that it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. Actually, it’s hard to determine exactly what fits in with this movie. It’s filled with action, yes. It’s filled with aliens, but they aren’t intimidating – especially when they come off as cheaply made and their ninja stars that they hurl at the protagonists look like something that belongs in the 1990s. It has Nicolas Cage, but he doesn’t appear until almost an hour into the movie, and is hardly in it once he’s introduced. While Cage provides some entertaining moments, there needed to be more.

The DVD for Jiu Jitsu comes presented in widescreen format, along with a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track. The only add-on for it is a digital copy of the film. No special features are present here.

Those looking for something over the top and delivering on its promise will be disappointed with Jiu Jitsu. It’s a sluggish, meandering effort that fails to revel in its silliness. But at least we see Nicolas Cage wearing a newspaper hat and spouting some goofy dialogue, even if it’s brief.

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David Wangberg

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