Gymkatarecommended viewing

You never do know when a ninja will show up
★★★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1985
Director: 
Robert Crouse
Starring: 
Kurt Thomas, Tetchie Agbayani, Richard Norton, Buck Kartalian, Bob Schott
The Setup: 
The government recruits a gymnast to travel to Parmistan to play the deadly "game" and support the Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative.
Discussion: 

You know, I suspect that not enough of us have contemplated the sheer number of perilous situations in life that can ONLY be escaped through the use of gymnastics. It is tragic that untold millions have died in situations where a simple back flip could have preserved their lives. However, I have hope that the powerful motion picture experience known as Gymkata will reverse this sad lack of awareness, and move the government to understand that a gymnastically-trained populous may in fact be our ONLY line of defense against the growing threats of our modern world.

The director who was able to see beyond his temporary circumstances and right into the future, to grasp the vast untapped potential of the gymnastic martial arts espionage drama was Robert Crouse, who brought us the classics Black Belt Jones and ENTER THE DRAGON! Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas plays the hero, an average Olympic-level gymnast who just wants to perfect his routines and wear his mullet in peace. However, the government recruits him into a top secret program that will train him to FUSE his gymnastic ability with martial arts, thus becoming an unstoppable fighting machine. And I mean really-have you ever stopped to consider how deadly a man who wielded both karate AND gymnastics would be? Well if not, I suggest you do so right away. The difference. could mean your life.

Poor Kurt Thomas looks like he's about 17 in this movie, and with his feathered hair and mullet and blank doe-eyed stare, he looks like that guy that everyone thought was a total fox in middle school, who would stand by the snack stand at the roller rink with an insouciant grace that was just SO awesome that you could only imagine how awesome it would be if he chose you for a couples skate to Journey's "Open Arms."

Okay, now imagine that that guy is James Bond.

That's right, Kurt's character is a tough zinger-spouting roughneck secret agent who just HAPPENS to look like the "cool" 17-year-old babe from the roller rink. It's as though the jerk from middle school who used to pretend to kick ninja ass in his backyard suddenly got a movie and budget to act out these scenarios for real.

Anyway, so Kurt spends a week or two training to be a secret agent, after which he is a MUCH more proficient fighter than any of the numerous professional ninjas who menace him throughout the movie. His training involves, at one point, him walking up a flight of stairs on his hands, which treats viewers to the strange sight of looking straight at this guys' ball mound, while listening to his wimpy grunts, as he climbs the stairs. On his hands. Anyway, this rigorous training is overseen by the enigmatic eye of Princess Rubali, who mutely attacks Kurt with a knife at every opportunity in order to demonstrate that she is a tough vixen not to be trifled with, and to prepare Kurt for the reality that he should treat everyone as a potential assassin. Her steely resolve cannot withstand Kurt's backflips of seduction, however, and in a few minutes she's melting into his arms, at which point she seems to transform from formidable killing machine into helpless damsel, and remains in this state for the remainder of the film.

So it would seem that Kurt is needed to infiltrate the country of Parmistan and enter the city of Karbala, which as everyone knows, is on the Caspian Sea. There he must compete in "the game," which is essentially a big obstacle course which one tries to complete while endless ninjas and the hunky Zamir attempt to kill you. If Kurt can complete the game-no one in 900 years has, you know-then he'll get to make one request of the Khan of Parmistan, which will be to allow the U.S. to install the first part of the Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative, crucial in protecting the united states from. whatever.

So Kurt and co. travel to Karbala, which as you may recall is located on the Caspian Sea, and they visit the city's many exotic bazaars. I have traveled through Turkey and Morocco, and the low-budget approximations of Middle Eastern medinas-all Pier One inventory and mud-brought quite a bit of amusement to me. But wouldn't you know, danger lurks. This is announced quite unequivocally as one character only just utters "There is a little anti-American sentiment going around" before-thwack!-an arrow pierces his chest and he is killed instantly. This leads to one of the many fight sequences in which gymnastic ability proves to be THE decisive factor. You know, I never really did before understand the full range of situations that can ONLY be solved with gymnastics. The scales have fallen from my eyes, I am tellin' you.

Kurt looks every bit the suave super agent in his blue jeans, red sweatshirt, and white member's only jacket. Later in the film he kicks ass in jeans and a blue turtleneck. These irresistible outfits further lend to the feeling that this film is about how that kid who works at the frozen yogurt stand at the food court is actually a ninja secret agent.

Speaking of ninjas, you never do know when they're going to show up, do you? That's another hard-nosed REALITY that this film woke me up to. Some days you're just trying to enjoy some relaxing whitewater rafting, and who is that creeping along the riverbank? Fuckin' ninjas. AGAIN. Then you're trying to enjoy some quiet time with your woman and, wouldn't you know-fuckin' NINJAS. They're everywhere, dude, and they won't give a brother no peace. Boy, am I glad we live in a country that protects its citizens against the constant assault of ninjas, but in backwater Parmistan, poor Kurt and Princess Rubali have no such protections. Hello, another mission for the U.N.

So we then meet the Khan of Karbala, which, as you may be aware, is located on the Caspian Sea. The role of Khan [sadly, not THAT Khan] is assuaged by the thespic talents of Buck Kartalian. I was previously unaware that the kings of small Middle Easten countries could IN FACT look like Bernie Lubowitz from the carpet store at the far end of the Sunnydaze Strip Mall, with his massive comb-over and cheesy mustache [he looks like Harry Reems' dad], but now I see the extent of my ignorance. It turns out that this Bernie Lubowitz-looking guy is PRINCESS RUBALI'S FATHER!! It's amazing-I guess the mother must have been Asian, though it's curious that an Asian woman would be produced at all in an entirely Middle Eastern country. Nevertheless, as fate would have it, Rubali has been promised in marriage to Zamir [not to be confused with Zamfir, mind you, as Zamir is master of the bow and arrow, NOT, in point of fact, the pan flute]. Zamir is a bearded muscle stud who parts his hair down the middle and is fetchingly presented shirtless with a vest made of fur. Anyway, Kurt is like, real bummed that he can't marry Rubali, but he promises not to give up. Rubali, who sees beyond the muscles and the cheesy hotness and the fur vests to the human soul within, obviously knows that Kurt, what with his searing gymnastic skill, is truly the only man who can possess her heart. But what to do?

With these dramatic situations making the atmosphere tense as a piano wire, Kurt enters the game, in which the contestants basically run and climb while ninjas attack and Zamir tries to shoot them. Kurt has a fight with unscrupulous opponent Thorg, who seems to be the only one in the movie who's been in a martial arts movie before, and his fights are fun to watch. Then Kurt enters the village of "the crazies," which is apparently where all the loony people in town go to live. But wouldn't you know, even the mentally ill are well versed in the martial arts and are in perpetual murderous rages. What they're NOT well versed in, however, is gymnastics, which gives Kurt the decisive EDGE. This is most apparent in a scene in which he is chased by about 50 crazy folk to a town square, which just HAPPENS to have a pommel horse in the middle [one of those things on which gymnasts support themselves on their arms while swinging their legs around]. Good thing, too, as Kurt uses it to fend off his attackers with his mastery of GYMKATA. Just another scene that really makes you think-what if Kurt WASN'T an Olympic gymnast? WHAT then? It'd be curtains, for sure.

I should also mention that there is a massive tonal shift into horror movie territory when Kurt enters the village of the crazies, where the streets are foggy, deserted and quiet. In one square a dog laps at a pool of blood lying in the middle of the street-which was one of the two actually good things about the movie [the other is the genuinely creepy sentries that show the way of the course through the game. they appear suddenly, and do a good job or sustaining tension throughout the game. Unfortunately they all lower their flags as though totally bored as soon as Kurt passes them]. Anyway, at one point in the crazy village a guy hacks off his own hand for no reason. it all just gets very gory and scary with no motivation. Don't miss the LONG sequence as Kurt gets sick of Gymkata-ing the natives and walks off, and they all follow him in slooowwwwww-motion. Then he's helped out of the city by a mysterious stranger who turns out to be... HIS LONG-LOST FATHER!!!!

Father and son share a tender reunion for approximately 1.5 minutes before Kurt's father is killed by an arrow, leading an enraged Kurt to face-off with Zamir. They fight, then Kurt abruptly breaks off, walks right past Zamir to a more open spot where it would be more convenient to execute his body-flippin' GYMKATA moves, which Zamir happily obliges [I said he had muscles and wore fur, I didn't say he was smart]. Kurt defeats Zamir and becomes the first person-in 900 years-to win the game! Oh God-I hope I haven't ruined the movie for you!

Then we see Kurt and Rubali happily riding a horse, the shot freezes, and this title appears on screen: "In 1985 the first early warning Earth station was placed in Parmistan for the U.S. Star Wars defense program," which is THE genius stroke of this movie-pretend that there is a place called Parmistan, pretend that this place is CRUCIAL to the strategic defense program, pretend that success was achieved ONLY because the U.S. sent a gymnast in to complete this vital mission, and best of all, pretend that what you have just witnessed is a TRUE STORY. It really boggles the mind. I also love that whoever the perceived audience for this film [mentally challenged 12-year-olds?] is supposed to go "YEAH! GO USA!" when they find this out. And then of course there's the additional information that we know today just about how successful the strategic defense initiative was. Of course, we couldn't have known then what we know now-oh wait, yes we could, because everyone knew it was a stupid idea even way back then. Now if we were talking about training gymnasts to go into space and karate kick missiles back to Earth, THAT would be a program I could get behind.

This movie IMMEDIATELY leapt into first place as the absolute stupidest movie I have ever seen in my entire life. By a wide margin. But it is so outrageously idiotic, yet so entirely earnest, that it really is charmingly hilarious all the way through. This is only available on VHS, but is REALLY worth seeking out. This one is safe for a party. Oh dear, I fear I may never see a movie quite like this ever again. But until then, I guess I'll just have to keep practicing my defensive gymnastic routines. Because you know, you really never can tell when a ninja is going to show up.

Should you watch it: 

For God's sake, YES!