American Kickboxer 1 (1990)
American Kickboxer 1 (1990)-* * 1\2
Directed By: Frans Nel
Starring: John Barrett, Keith Vitali, Brad Morris, and Ted Le Plat
The first thing you'll notice about "American Kickboxer 1" is THE 1. How did they know when they made it, it would have a sequel...two years later? Talk about jumping the gun on a franchise! Maybe they were hoping to reach eight (to date) sequels like the "Bloodfist" series and wanted to show the world they were ahead of the curve. Anyway...
World kickboxing champ BJ Quinn (Barrett) accidentally kills Ken Harrigan outside the ring in a freak accident and is sold down the river in court by his conceited, evil rival Jacques Denard (Morris, in a career-defining performance). After getting out of jail after 10 months, he is banned from kickboxing in championship bouts. However, he does train his buddy Chad (Vitali) to take on Denard. All of this drama is being monitored by sassy journalist Willard (Le Plat). Will a grudge match ensue between Quinn and Denard? Who will be victorious?
The character of Jacques Denard is an all-time classic. He is French, flamboyant, and flamingly arrogant. He wears a tutu of tassels (!) in the ring. That alone is enough to knock your opponent over! At one of his many press conferences, he wears a bowtie and no shirt. He has lines shaven in his head and rides a motorcycle. He's the ultimate "Love to Hate Him" baddie. He actually eclipses previous jerk from American Shaolin: King of the Kickboxers II, Trevor Gottitall.
Interestingly, just as the movie High Risk (1995) has a character not-so-subtly mocking Jackie Chan, "American Kickboxer 1" presumably does the same to Jean-Claude Van Damme. We believe Denard is a direct slam on Van Damme. He is a Van Damme lookalike and soundalike, and another character says (the term) "Bloodsport has a negative connotation". As "Kickboxer" 1 is a Cannon film, as was Bloodsport (1988), it seems to be a sly reference. Perhaps someone in the production here worked with Van Damme, and this is their revenge.
A film highlight is the courtroom scene. Quinn's lawyer appears to be about ten years old (no wonder he lost the case). Actually, he resembles Peter Billingsley of Beverly Hills Brats (1989) fame. Denard takes the stand wearing sunglasses and playing with his brass knuckles. Is that allowed?
The play-by-play announcers at the kickboxing matches are funny. Is anyone listening to kickboxing on the radio? "There's a punch! Now a kick! Now a punch!"...etc...
Barrett of Shootfighter (1992) fame and a former associate of Chuck Norris, plays, by today's standards, an older punchfighter. He was born in 1952, and was a spry 40 when he took on Denard. Like Night of the Kickfighters' Andy Bauman and Busted Up's (1986) Paul Coufos before him, he shows you don't have to be young to beat people up. Barrett's theme song "He's a Man", used during his training sequences, should have been used more, although I don't think we need convincing.
American Kickboxer 1 is a decent entry into the punch/kick/fist/fighting/meathead genre. It delivers all the standard stuff you are looking for and doesn't disappoint. It's worth watching for the Denard character alone.
If you must see "1" movie about kickboxing this week, see "American Kickboxer 1"!
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty