Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Gymkata
Because, for the next two months, you’re going to toughen your mind and your body. It’s going to make your Olympic training look like finger-painting.
Gymkata is one of the legendary “awful” movies of the 1980’s. Simultaneously derided for being absolutely terrible on every conceivable level and adored for just those reasons, it really is a masterpiece of “bad” cinema. The sheer concept of Gymkata is so gleefully silly that I honestly think it doesn’t deserve the hate grenades thrown at it. Not to mention that it has a montage, and everyone loves a montage. Even Rocky had a montage. What we have here is a phenomenally entertaining piece of dumbhouse, a film that has no business existing and never once drops below the levels of stupidly hysterical. Gymkata is a magnificently cretinous movie, a blast from start to finish and kept me in absolute hysterics all the way through.
I’m not sure how to go about this plot summary, so bear with me. Parmistan is a small country somewhere in the Urals. Despite being little more than a blot on the map, it’s of vital strategic importance, as it is uniquely placed for the perfect location for a Reagan era Star Wars monitoring station. Parmistan, and this is something the tourist board keep hidden, is basically noteworthy for running “a game” whereby the winner (and usually only survivor) is allowed to ask for whatever he wants. Interestingly, and probably a pertinent fact that isn’t good news for our hero, there hasn’t been a winner in some stupid length of time like 1000 years, and so the ruling Khan hasn’t been obligated to make good on his promise. Strangely, there’s no limit on what you can request, which makes it just as well I totally lack in fitness or athletic skills, because if I won this competition I’d ask for all sorts of selfish things such as vast quantities of booze, drugs and loose women. This time round, though, the Yanks have a plan. They’re desperate to get that space monitoring thing in, and so recruit ace Olympic gymnast Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) to compete for them. Never mind that the dude has as much martial training as I have, he’s clearly the man for the job.
So, hiring some expert mystic Asians and Princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani), who exists only to ambush him periodically with a knife and say “don’t trust anyone” he goes into intensive training. Huzzah! Montage time! We get to see him getting a little bit better at his martial arts bit by bit as symbolised by his hand stand climb up a staircase (distressingly filmed from above, giving us a very unfortunate perspective right up his shorts. This we do not need to see). Eventually, he’s deemed good enough to go to Parmistan, where he impresses everyone with his gymnastics based ninja skills by beating up random henchmen in a very convincing way indeed.
So, on to the game (I’ve skipped over the kidnap nonsense). OK, it works like this: it’s basically a really twisted hare and hounds. Our contestants start off outside the Royal palace, and are given a bit of a head start. They then peg it to the cliffs of doom (not actually called this, but they should be) where they climb up, they then cross the big scary ravine of doom, before going to the village of the damned and fighting refugees from the Omega Man, and returning to the palace. This would be simple enough, except evil head henchman Zamir (Richard Norton) leads a pack of ninjas in pursuit. He’s allowed to basically kill any that he catches just for shits and giggles. Anyhoo, to stop our contestants getting lost, there are ninjas helpfully stationed all over the course to point them in the right direction (watch out for the ninja stationed at the bottom of the ravine. He’s got the worst job in history- seriously, as anyone that falls in gets splattered all over the rocks leaving him with little to do but stand there and juggle his balls).
In the meantime, the Princess is imprisoned with her father, while Zamir tries to use his influence to take the throne. But, she’s also a bit of a ninja, so her and the Khan break out to lay waste to all of Parmistan’s spare henchmen.
Unsurprisingly, our boy Jonathan proves to be a dab hand at this, using his gymnastic skills and whatnot to basically clobber his way through the course. Notable, in particular, for the pommel horse fight, which is so, so funny that I almost can’t describe it, it turns out that being really really good at gymnastics means that you’re a dab hand at Parmistian krypton factor. Obviously, he has to be rescued by his dad (helpfully disguised as a ninja) and gymkata Zamir to death, but all in all, he’s had more difficulty buying a pint of milk at 3 in the morning than he does here.
Let me lay this film out: Acting? Shit. Writing? Shit. Direction? Seriously? Shit. Score? Shit. Entertainment value? Enormous. Gymkata is an epically dumb film, a hilarious and staggeringly stupid riot, that rocks along with a big smile on its face for what feels like a very short run time. There are genius moments liberally dispersed all the way through, such as the convenient placement of a big bar to allow Jonathan to beat the shit out of two henchman by doing an Olympic routine, or that there’s an even more convenient pommel horse in the village of the damned. I had a blast, and sat there howling with laughter all the way through.
I’m not sure what they were aiming for here. It’s incredibly po-faced with the likes of Thomas delivering portentous and stupid dialogue about how they can’t let the commies get Parmistan, yet it’s dispersed with weird moments such as him doing somersaults from a standing position in front of the Princess to mimic her side of the conversation (this has to be seen to be believed). As another example, Norton tries to be all menacing and moustache twirly as Zamir, but he’s undermined by the performance of Buck Kartalian as The Khan, who plays the part of an all-powerful feudal ruler like Warwick Davis on crack playing the Leprechaun. It’s so fucking strange, and feels like there’s two camps of people making the film- those that know it’s dumb, and those that think it’s a proper action film.
Really, you have to see this film to appreciate it, as I can wax lyrical about the many hilariously stupid moments, and never really get across how awesome it is. Gymkata is just so god damned funny from start to finish, for entirely unintentional reasons, that I have no hesitation in approving it wholeheartedly. I saw this on a Sunday morning with a mild hangover and cried with laughter all the way through, and I suspect that beer would only improve the experience. Recommended.
Next up in the Vault there are a few options. None as funny as this one though.