By John Black

It’s as if somebody installed a time machine in Cinema 4.

Outside it was 2016. Inside it was the 1980s and Jean-Claude Van Damme was kicking bad guy butt – flying kicks, double kick splits and all. Sure, he was a bit slower and the editing did most of the heavy lifting to make him look good, but for those of us who grew up watching the “Muscles from Brussels” movies, it still a blast.

The movie we're talking about is Kickboxer: Vengeance and it’s worth searching for at your local megaplex before it heads to DVD. Our local theater had one showing of the film a day, at 1:50 in the afternoon and, on the day this critic watched it, had only two paying customers on a Saturday afternoon. Two very happy customers, for the record, both being middle aged guys who remember when the name of the star alone – Stallone, Arnold, Van Damme, Segal, Eastwood, Bronson – was enough to make it a must see movie.

The updated version of Kickboxer, a film originally released with Van Damme as the star back in 1989, follows the basic outline of just about half of the action movies ever made by those stars mentioned in the paragraph above. An American martial artist goes to Thailand to test his skills against a local champion in an underground kickboxing match. The American gets brutally killed and it’s up to his brother to go to Thailand and avenge him. Because he’s really not that great at kickboxing, he hooks up with his brother’s old trainer and learns the skills he needs to beat the bad guy.

Now, flesh it out a bit by having a hunky guy like Alain Moussi as the brother, a beefy ex-wrestler like Dave Bautista as the bad guy and a ghost from the action movie past like Van Damme to play the trainer and you get a pretty good idea of what the movie will be like before a single punch or kick is thrown.  And in this case, that’s fine. You don’t buy a ticket to Kickboxer: Vengeance expecting great acting or deep meaning. You go to see guys beat the crap out of each other and on that level, Kickboxer: Vengeance delivers.

Ok, so some of the fights are more about the editing than the actual fighting, but they still look cool up on the big screen. Director John Stockwell (Blur Crush, In the Blood), cinematographer Mateo Londono and the film’s various stuntmen, stuntwomen and stunt coordinators team together to make all of the fights look good, whether it’s a gang fight or a one-on-one battle to the death. To be honest, the big battle between the good guy and the bad guy is a bit of a disappointment – it’s just not that exciting to watch Bautista fake fight his way through the match – but all is forgiven for the way they film the fight between Van Damme and a bad guy he catches sneaking around his remote training facility. It may not be one of Van Damme’s best battles, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Kickboxer: Vengeance isn’t for everyone; even young action movie fans may find it too old school to be exciting compared to the high octane stuff they usually watch. For those of us who remember the days when guys like a Damme ruled the box office, though, it’s a welcome trip down memory lane.

The toughest part will be waiting for the sequel, Kickboxer Retaliation to be released.