Before Never Back Down (2008) there was Showdown (1993)! A high school senior in a new city gets bullied, finds a martial arts mentor in an unsuspecting place, and awkwardly lands the pretty girl. Wait a minute, this sounds just like The Karate Kid (1984)! It pretty much is, with a few tweaks and a more brutal take on the martial arts tournament. Let’s get into this. Fighters, are you ready? Hajime!
Showdown opens with police officers Billy (Billy Blanks) and Spinelli (Mike Genovese) sitting in their patrol car as Spinelli pleads with Billy to carry his gun. Billy “doesn’t like those things,” but reluctantly agrees. The officers are called to a wild party that’s getting out of hand just as they arrive. Inside, Billy finds a pair of brothers getting physical with other party goers and things escalate quickly. During the ensuing hand-to-hand brawl, Billy knocks one brother to the ground where he hits his head and dies. The other brother gets subdued and hauled off in handcuffs but we haven’t seen the last of him.
Seven years later, we find new kid Ken (Kenn Scott) getting dropped off for his first day as a senior in a new school along with a bagged lunch complete with thermos. Ken and his mother have left small-town Kansas for better opportunities in a big city somewhere in Arizona. Ken befriends a goofball named Mike (John Asher) after embarrassing himself by diving to the ground in fear while mistaking a firework for gunshots. This folly draws the attention of school bully Tom (Ken McLeod), who instills fear into the hearts of his fellow students with intimidating martial arts skills, which he learns from a psycho named Lee (Patrick Kilpatrick). Lee is the very same thug we see carted off to jail at the beginning, now released, sporting a face-long scar and a thick mustache. Lee also runs an underground fight club where teens beat each other up for cash bet on them by local degenerates. These fights are more brutal than traditional karate tournaments and resemble the kind of kumite we see in Bloodsport (1988).
Ken really sparks Tom’s ire when he begins to innocently chat with Tom’s girlfriend, Julie (Christine Taylor), always a major no-no, causing Tom to ramp up the harassment and humiliation. After a beatdown from Tom, Ken is helped up by the school’s quiet, unassuming janitor, former cop Billy, who’s hiding out for his sins. A few days later in the darkened gym Ken is saved from another beating as Billy sweeps in to fend off the attackers in a very Jackie Chan-esque fight scene. The other kids think it’s Ken that did the damage, which only intensifies Tom’s rage leading to an ass kicking in front of the whole school.
At this point, Ken has had enough and seeks out Billy to show him the ways of empty-hand combat. When Billy finally agrees to teach Ken, the Rocky/Karate Kid-esque training montages begin and in a very short time, we see Ken grow to be an expert. Under Billy’s program, he can now kick higher and punch harder than every other teen ever with a month’s worth of free lessons. He also gains the abs of a Greek sculpture. No wonder Blanks’ Taebo videos sold so well.
Thus we reach the final Showdown! “It’s Time” to watch as these two “teen” warriors throw down and handle their beef like modern-day gladiators. Our combatants assemble in the warehouse where that underground fight league is located and this ultimate fight is much more hardcore than any All-Valley Tournament. The final fight takes on a mixed martial arts (MMA) approach as opposed to the more traditional type of contact karate matches. There’s a referee that starts the fight with the traditional “hajime” command but that’s about all he does as there are no rules on this extreme battle ground.
True to formula, the bully gets the beatdown this time which sets off his psycho sensei who jumps in and starts to beat up our hero Ken. There’s no way Billy can let that happen and he comes leaping in to save Ken one last time. An epic bout ensues and Blanks gets to show off more of his master moves, eventually thwarting thug Lee. With evil Lee defeated and arrested by Detective Spinelli, who was called in by goofy Mike, everyone hugs it out and laughs. As they walk off into the night, Billy is offered a job training cops to fight without their guns. Huzzah!
Showdown directed by Robert Radler (Best of the Best) isn’t bad; I honestly like it. I enjoy how it pokes fun at itself with some inside jokes and references to Rocky (Blanks sports a fedora hat and fingerless gloves) and The Karate Kid, which it apes in many ways from awkward new kid and skilled bully to the nutball sensei and a master in hiding. It’s lighthearted and funny throughout both intentionally and unintentionally (Billy’s badge actually says “Policeman Police”). It has its flaws sure and gets hokey at times but that’s to be expected with this type of B-level action flick, especially when “teens” are involved; our bully crew look like they’re closer to 30 than 17 and our hero Ken is a bit north of 18 as well.
Kilpatrick turns in a fine performance as the over-the-top psycho sensei. Pushing the bounds of cringe just over the edge, at one point he pulls off his belt and lashes at Billy, but he manages to stay menacing though a bit comical throughout. His fight scenes with Blanks are pretty good considering he isn’t a martial arts guy, just an actor who learned his choreography well. Blanks brings a sincerity and heart to his nice guy role that people who know him best say is truly who he is, a big teddy bear with wicked kicks. Blanks is masterful in his combat art and shines best as he shows off his skills.
Showdown was essentially written with Blanks and newcomer Kenn Scott in mind, which is why they’re named “Billy” and “Ken” in the script. Scott, also a lifelong martial artist, had appeared on screen previously under the costume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Raphael in the second installment of that franchise from 1991. Showdown was his first feature unmasked and he admits he tried a little too hard and looks distressed on screen in most of his scenes like he’s constipated or his shoes are too tight. His high kicks and physique are stellar though.
The feature-length Making of Showdown is a great documentary and a wonderful alternative to an audio commentary track. We get to catch up with the cast and crew as they reveal their thoughts and feelings about the movie, both then and now. Lots of fun facts and stories from those in front and behind the camera, including writer Stuart Gibbs, director Radler, as well as actors Blanks, Kilpatrick, Scott, and Asher. Kenn Scott is a highlight as he’s very animated and fun to watch. He recalls fondly his days on set and his interactions with fans at cons and on the streets. There are also three shorter featurettes that further spotlight Radler, Blanks, and the fight scenes of Showdown.
Special Features include:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the main feature in 1.78:1 aspect ratio
- The Making of “Showdown” – a new feature documentary with director Robert Radler, writer Stuart Gibbs and stars Billy Blanks, Kenn Scott, John Asher, Patrick Kilpatrick and Michael Genovese (HD, 98 min)
- Robert Radler: Portrait of a Director featurette (HD 12 min)
- Billy Blanks: Martial Arts Legend (HD, 15 min)
- Photo Galleries
- Mini Poster
Showdown is 98 minutes of fun martial arts action that definitely bridges the gap between The Karate Kid and Never Back Down. Upping the violence and featuring a more non-traditional martial arts setting, borrowing an edgy vibe from movies like Bloodsport. Showdown presents a more current view of the trends in martial arts at the time, when kickboxing and grappling began to blend and would soon be all the rage with the rise of No-Holds Barred fights and the UFC. While not as iconic as The Karate Kid, it still holds a sweet spot for cult fans around the world who have fond memories of the movie and demanded its release on a medium other than VHS. The good people at MVD Visual have responded with this wonderful Blu-ray addition to their Rewind Collection. Another win for MVD.