“Gymkata” (1985)

by A.J. Hakari

What’s a Blog-a-Thon? This blog-a-thon is a challenge; its participants have chosen films the other has not seen to watch and review.

September Blog-a-Thon criteria? Hidden ’80s gems.

Why did Marcey choose this for A.J.? Gymkata is not exactly what one may call a good film; in fact, it is a prime example of why certain things shouldn’t be done. It is an interesting experiment in that way and a film that I do believe is worth watching. With so much wrong in Gymkata, it does remain an entertaining film, with so many laughs (a lot not exactly intentional) and very bizarre moments. This is recommended viewing and a crime that until now A.J. hasn’t seen!”

And now…A.J.’s review…

The ’80s didn’t have a monopoly on novelty movies, but there sure was a lot of goofy shit promoting the fad of the week. Thrashin’ fed on the skateboarding craze, Breakin’ featured popping and locking, and Rad capitalized on kids’ love of BMX dance numbers (what, you’ve never been?). As for whatever the hell Gymkata is supposed to be, an antidote to the overtly-macho action hero model of the time is what I assume the filmmakers had in mind. It was a novel and more graceful alternative to the screen’s roided-up musclemen, and for that, I have to give the flick some credit. But the premise is executed with about as many metric tons of cheese as you’d expect, sentencing Gymkata to life as a darling of the cult movie circuit and the butt of countless “MST3K” jokes.

Parmistan is what would happen if you let the Rennaisance Festival get too long and too violent. The small mountain nation is the perfect spot for the U.S. to install a secret base and warn home in case of an impending Russkie attack, but there’s one catch. All outsiders have to participate in a series of physical challenges that mostly result in death, but should a winner emerge, the grand prize is the granting of any request of their choosing. Enter Jonathan Cabot (Olympic medalist Kurt Thomas), a skilled gymnast whom Uncle Sam recruits to enter the contest in the name of establishing the aforementioned base. But Jonathan faces trouble not just from his fellow competitors but also Zamir (Richard Norton), a scheming revolutionary who’ll kill any back-flipping do-gooders standing between him and taking over Parmistan.

Gymkata‘s downfall is that it doesn’t have a damned clue of what it wants to be. There’s a kitchen sink quality to the story, which chucks in elements of James Bond, Bruce Lee, medieval fantasy, and The Most Dangerous Game with virtually no discipline. It’s like watching the indecisive bonehead in front of you at Subway pondering what toppings he should choose for 90 minutes, and you don’t know whether to laugh at the guy or get mad that you’re late for work. Gymkata was not made by stupid people (director Robert Clouse helmed a little ditty called Enter the Dragon), but in their quest to spice up martial arts cinema with something very different, the creative team ended up with a product that’s only truly entertaining the more it’s mocked.

The name Gymkata comes from the hybrid of gymnastics and fighting talents Jonathan must put to use, and it’s the sequences designed to highlight these moves that are particularly amusing. Convenient tools with which our hero can dismount and reverse planche his way to victory are all over the place; one village of criminally-insane residents was even nice enough to include a pommel horse for Jonathan to twirl on while he kicks their asses. As ridiculous as these scenarios are (especially in a film that likes to blitz exposition right past you), I have to admit that they’re made with a certain energy that draws you in despite the loony concept. You don’t care anymore about Jonathan’s romance with a hottie princess, the search for his missing father, or any of the other dozen subplots the film eventually forgets, but when it’s one dude versus a town full o’ crazies, you wanna see how he gets out of it.

Gymkata is dumb, poorly-acted, all over the map…and yeah, it’s kind of entertaining. It’s terrible, but it moves fast, so whenever a dopey performance or plot convenience rolls around, it’s never for long. I’m thankful that the crimefighting gymnast craze never took off, but for what it’s worth, Gymkata does what it does and sends you off with a good laugh.

(Be sure to read Marcey’s review of my recommendation, Things Change, at her website, SuperMarcey.com!)