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Warner Home Video presents
Gymkata (1985)

"The thrill of gymnastics. The kill of karate."
- Tagline

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: February 01, 2007

Stars: Kurt Thomas
Other Stars: Tetchie Agbayani, Richard Norton, Edward Bell
Director: Robert Clouse

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (martial arts violence, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:29m:38s
Release Date: January 30, 2007
UPC: 012569795242
Genre: martial arts

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I don't know what you think when you see tiny men springing around on mats during the summer Olympics, but I'm guessing it probably isn't "action star." That's where you and Hollywood part ways. Because in 1985, smack dab in the era of Rocky and Rambo, the movies introduced us to a new breed of American hero. One wearing tights. Yes, friends, it's Gymkata, a movie about an elite... gymnast trained by the government to infiltrate a hostile, possibly Middle Eastern country and take part in an epic martial arts contest known only as The Game. His only defense? A fearsome fusion of martial arts and gymnastics. I love movies about foreign policy.

A shameless attempt to cash in on about a dozen '80s pop culture trends (Ninjas! Karate! Post-Mary Lou Retton gymnastics!), Gymkata stars former Olympic gymnastics hopeful and middle school play-worthy actor Kurt Thomas as Jonathan Cabot, an expert athlete recruited by the government for a secret mission for some reason. See, there's this tiny, obscure country called Parmistan that's apparently the perfect place for a Star Wars missile defense array—Star Wars, boy, that takes you back, huh? If you weren't already there the minute you spotted Cabot's short-shorts and fabulous mini-mullet (aka "The Bacon")—but the place is totally backwards and is wont to kill off every foreigner that wanders by.

The only way to win respect is to participate in an ancient triathalon-like contest known as "The Game," which no outsider has won in something like 900 years, which is just dumb, unless Parmistan is just overflowing with natural resources and never needs to trade or anything. Anyway, the government figures Cabot is the perfect guy for the job, despite the fact that his secret agent father sucked it up pretty badly and got himself killed off in the opening sequence.

But first, Cabot will need to fuse the power of gymnastics and karate into Gymkata, a process which involves a truly hilarious training montage that doesn't even have the good sense to be set to a kickin' power ballad. But after a few minutes of learning karate and horseback riding from a bunch of stereotypes (hey look, a wise martial arts master with a giant pet hawk for some reason!), he's ready to go—but not before bedding Princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani), a member of the Parmistani royalty who gets it on with Cabot because he's the hero. Or she's impressed that he can walk upstairs on his hands, which is part of the secret to Gymkata, if the training sequence is to be believed.

It's sort of pointless to even describe this "plot," because there isn't much to it, and what is there makes no sense. Suffice it to say, Cabot makes it to Parmistan, but not before a brainless action sequence in which he defeats a bunch of nameless foreign devils given no motivation to attack with the help of the convenient gymnastics high bar luckily installed in a back alley and pre-coated with helpful chalk—what unexpected luck!

It's even better once The Game begins. Parmistan is sort of the perfect storm of lazy filmmaking, with cheap sets, lame costumes (all foreigners wear furry hats or turbans, like they couldn't decide which "-stan" they were going for), and questionable... well, everything. Like, Princess Rubali is exotic and dark-skinned (and, incidentally, Filipino, not that the movie cares), but everyone else in the country, including her father, the Khan (Burt Kartalian), is sort of Eastern bloc-looking. Dad, frankly, seems ripped right from a Mel Brooks movie, cheering on his dour, impoverished subjects with the constant refrain "Yakmallah!" Oh, and did I mention Parmistan is represented in The Game by a bunch of guys dressed as ninjas? Yeah, you know, those ancient, possibly Middle Eastern/Soviet ninjas.

Of course there's also a villain, B-movie beefcake Zamir (Richard Norton), who is to be married to Rubali and wants to corrupt The Game for his own purposes, or something. The point is, he totally cheats, and he and his band of ninjas do their best to put a stop to the awesome power of Cabot, but he's got gymkata on his side! And also, the downright good fortune to be taking part in The Game in a backwards country that just happens to install a modern-looking pommel horse in the middle of an ancient village of crazy people (no, really, all the crazies are sent to live there and have no teeth and for some reason there are pigs). The result is one of the finest sequences ever filmed, in which all the crazies crowd around Cabot and attack him one by one so he can clobber them all with his pommel horse skills.

From acting that gives new dimension to the modifier "bad" to blatently expository dialogue to nonsensical plotting, Gymkata, directed by Robert Clouse of Enter the Dragon fame, is very nearly beyond description, but it's so inept, watching it is surreal, almost sublime. I'm not normally one for "so bad, it's good," but really, that's Gymkata right there. Well, maybe "oh my god, it's so bad, it's almost good." It's never boring, anyway. If they just make a sequel starring Kerri Strug, my life will be complete.

Oh, and one more thing. This is based on a book. That's right. A book.

Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Gymkata looks passable on DVD. The image is clean enough, albeit with dingy colors and more than a handful of scenes with very obvious film grain. It's a little muddy-looking, but the movie is very poorly filmed, so it's really kind of a wash.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio is pretty underwhelming. Dialogue is flat and kind of quiet and all the sound effects (from explosions to the overblown thwack of Gymkata action) are overcooked and harsh. But the quality sort of fits the low-budget feel of the whole thing, so it really isn't that big of a deal.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: You only get one extra, and what an excellent one it is: a vintage 1980s trailer with some of Mr. Trailer Voice's finest work to date. "When gymnastics and karate are fused, the combustion becomes an explosion, and a new kind of martial arts superhero is born!" Indeed.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

I never thought I'd encounter a movie with a dumber premise than Stallone's arm-wrestling epic Over the Top. Thank you, Gymkata, for proving me wrong.


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