Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Gymkata (1985)

Anyone who calls the film industry "liberal" has apparently never seen any movie from the 1980s. At the height of the Reagan era, the United States' clandestine Cold War operations varied wildly from boxing the Soviets (Rocky IV"), to shooting explosive-tipped arrows at the Soviets (Rambo III), to dropping Sylvester Stallone in the middle of Moscow and seeing how many Reds he can punch in the face (not a real movie, but for the purposes of this review I will call this Redpuncher 3: Operation Punchdrop).

1985's Gymkata opted for a slightly different tactic. According to the American representative (who looks disturbingly like Texas Republic President Rick Perry), "direct military action is out of style." The preferred method is to train Olympic gymnast Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) in the deadly art of acrobatic-based martial arts, drop him into the fictitious Central Asian country of Parmistan where he competes in a deadly race through the barren, antiquated wasteland in order to assure placement of the US's Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative on Parmistanian soil. You laugh, but this story is based on the very real Operation Elbowthrow (Google it), where the US government trained expert baton thrower Justine Brennemen in the deadly art of Muay Thai boxing and dropped her in the heart of Cuba so that her victory in a human cockfighting tournament would allow us to acquire Guantanamo Bay.

I shall defeat Communism with my flawless dismount.

Gymkata breezes through its introductory exposition like it's nobody's business. Manipulate Cabot's love for dead father, recruit, train in log cabin, and fall in love with Parmistanian Princess Rabali (whose father is white but she looks pure Filipino). His trainers are a varied bunch: black guy who looks like Mr. T, Asian guy with falcon. Slowly but surely Cabot masters the art of walking up the stairs on his hands, a skill he never uses in the field or ever again in his life.

"Next I'll teach you to master the deadly limbo stick!"

Once Cabot is fully trained, Rick Perry tells him he'll be going to "Karabal, on the Caspian Sea." A title card confirms this.


Karabal is like your typical fake Middle Eastern city. Onion-domed mosques dot the landscape. Street markets are filled with turbaned blue-eyed America-hating Italians. Cabot blends in by walking around in the gaudiest most conspicuous red sweater he can find, making sure to style his hockey hair before a night on the town.

Following the row, Princess Rabali is kidnapped. Bring your attractive new girlfriend on a secret mission and she's bound to be kidnapped. It's good to get it out of the way. Cabot escapes the incident and takes a cab back to his secret hideout. Some things happen betrayal gunshots Rick Perry returns alright off to Parmistan!

Can you tell the difference? (Ignore the Texas capital in the background)

Upon entering the country, Cabot gets a sneak preview of the challenge. The king runs some test prisoners through to make sure the corn maze is navigable and the ropes properly functioning. While the track is in proper working order, none of the bearded convicts make it out alive. Maybe next time try running to the border instead of through an unwinnable obstacle course full of ninjas shooting arrows at you.

From the start it's apparent the Parmistanians are playing with loaded dice. The king's Rickman-esque henchmen Zamir (Richard Norton) rides through the course and picks off everyone he doesn't like. One of the competitors is a mushroom-haired leviathan who takes down whatever and whoever gets in his way. The only advantage Cabot gets is a conveniently-placed concrete pommel horse which he uses to heroically kick elderly mental patients.

"You're lucky I don't have a ribbon!"

Despite a gymnastic bar and aforementioned pommel horse (or should I say PUMMEL horse?), there is surprisingly little gymnastics in Gymkata. Really it should be called Arrowkata, as nearly every character is impaled by an arrow shot from just off-screen. The stray arrow is to Gymkata what crotchshots are to Omega Cop. It's like the filmmakers dumped all their money on some cheesy magic shop arrow effect, and were determined to use it every chance they got.

I don't want to give away the specifics of Gymkata's ending, but I would just like to remind everyone that the Soviets never obliterated us with a barrage of nuclear missiles, so obviously Cabot's plan worked.

Arbitrary rating system:

14 stray arrows.


Cabot reunites with his father.

Cabot fights the Crazies.

Gymkata trailer.


  1. I guess Kerri Strug hurt her ankle kicking ass in Iraq.

  2. They don't even get the geography right; if "Karabal" is on the Caspian then it's either in Iran or the Soviet Union and the shot of the city with the title is actually in one of the ex-Soviet Central Asian states. BTW, this turkey was shot in Yugoslavia, so it is a kinda-sorta sister to "Transylvania 6-5000." And yes, the irony of an anti-communist film shot in a communist country is not lost on me.