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Bloodsport (1988)::rating::2.5::rating::2.5

Bloodsport stands as one of the most deliriously goofy action movies ever made, and yet every scene is soaked with a deadly seriousness.  Such a combination is generally fatal, and yet this overwrought martial arts bonanza finds a way to endure.  More than any movie I’ve yet reviewed, this one defies all description:  It’s terrible, but supremely entertaining.  Predictable, but thrilling.  Hilarious, but unsmiling.  Would I recommend it?  Yes!  No.  Kind of?  The only thing I can say with certainty is that for 92 sweaty, berserking minutes, Bloodsport is simply something that happens.

The story is a riff on Enter the Dragon, albeit filtered through the alabaster haze of pure Columbian cocaina.  It’s dumber than a box of glue sticks, but let me see if I can sort it out for ya:  Basically, Frank Dux (Jean-Claude) is an All-American bad-ass.  Except, you know,  he’s Belgian and struggles with English.  Frank serves for…um, some top-secret branch of the military?  I can’t say, except they wear olive fatigues and spend most of their training whacking each other in naughty bits.

One day, Frank goes AWOL.  Strangely, his superiors know exactly where he’s headed:  The Kumite, an elite martial arts tournament in Hong Kong.  When Frank arrives in China, we get a series of flashbacks that go naturally with the story, like dill pickles and animal crackers.  (The story helpfully intersperses the flashbacks with present day cutaways of Frank staring blankly into a fireplace, with all the emotional presence of a man lost in the thrall of nitrous oxide.)

Bear with me…so, Frank grew up in Hong Kong, under the tutelage of Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao).  Frank was also bestie-boos with Shingo (Sean Ward), Senzo’s wimpy kid.  Shingo dies, in a manner that’s both off-camera and never explained.  (Or did they?  I was busy staring into the fireplace with Frank.) As a result, Senzo adopts Frank and trains him to be a martial arts warrior. In the present, Frank visits Senzo and seeks his blessing to fight in the Kumite.  Reluctantly, Senzo gives it.

Now, we’re thirty minutes in, and we’re only just getting to the butt-stomping.  Frank rolls into the tournament, which looks like somebody took a giant’s sweaty armpit and built a gym inside it.  (This entire movie could use a trip through the car wash.) Here, we meet an assortment of muscular nutballs, many of them straight out of an 80s fever dream.  Frank buddies up with Jackson (Donald Gibb), a hulking biker dude with a crazed expression that perpetually makes him look like he just took a cattle prod to his man-marbles.  Then there’s Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), a ripped, raging psychopath, who’s so one-dimensional he makes Mortal Kombat characters look fully realized.

Step outside this tournament, and the characters get even more nonsensical.  Let’s start with Janice Kent (Leah Ayers).  She’s has the unfortunate distinction of being the April O’Neil to this batch of mouth-breathing numbskulls.  Janice makes one of the film’s most startling turns:  In the early scenes, she’s ready to rat Frank out to the army to keep him safe.  Just a few minutes later, she’s at the Kumite, cheering Frank with all the ferocity of an unhinged little league mom.  And don’t even get me started on the Feds (Norman Burton and Forest Whitaker) sent to bring Frank back to the states.  Their bumbling incompetence is so blatantly cartoon-like, I half-expected their pratfalls to include little tweety birds circling their heads.

But let’s be real:  You ain’t watching none of this for filmmaking finesse or rich character depth.  No, Bloodsport is all about dudes getting pummeled in their daddy parts and spraying blood-soaked teeth all over mat.  It’s also about the bad guys throwing salt in their opponent’s eyes and using the ref as a human shield.  Does any of it make sense?  Of course not, but this movie takes place in a reality you and I have never been.  It’s enough for me that it all makes sense to them.  Of course, I still have no idea if I’d recommend any of this.  Is Bloodsport amazing or awful?  The answer, my friends, is yes.

92 min.  R.  Amazon Video.

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