Kurt Thomas won six medals - including two golds - at the 1979 World Gymnastics Championships, but was denied a chance for Olympic glory by the United States' boycott of the Moscow games in 1980.
I'm not sure if this film was developed as a vehicle for Thomas, or if the idea of a gymnast turned secret agent came first, and the casting came later. But either way, it gave us what is effectively The Most Dangerous Game as a martial arts flick, with the gimmick that the martial arts hero bases his combat technique on his gymnastic training.
Gymkata's tagline is "The skill of Gymnastics. The kill of Karate.", and for the first twenty minutes of the film it almost lives up to the wonderfully awful promise that conveys. That part of the film covers three things:
- the recruitment of his character, John Cabot ("Go to MadeUpistan and participate in a wacky blood sport for Uncle Sam!");
- the training of Cabot (walking on your hands while you go up a flight of stairs is impressive, but I'm not sure how much call there is for that particular skill in the secret agent business, film-maker peeps);
- the romance of Cabot (impressively perfunctory in that his love interest doesn't even get a line of dialogue before they're making out)
Unfortunately there comes a time when Cabot must actually go on his mission, and it is here that the movie falls apart. I can sum up the rest of the film in three words: Cabot gets chased.
Cabot gets chased through towns. Cabot gets chased through swamps. Cabot gets chased through forests and villages. Cabot gets chased alone. Cabot gets chased with a friend. Cabot gets chased on enemies on foot, on horseback, and in cars. Cabot gets chased.
Now it is true that every now and again - generally when he finds some item of set decoration that looks suspiciously like parallel bars, a pommel horse, or other gymnastics equipment - Cabot will stop and fight. And the fights ... well, the choreography is kind of obvious; they look too stilted and deliberate and they're often gimmicky for the sake of it ... but at least that choreography is something a little out of the ordinary.
Alas though, the interesting elements of the fight scenes and the goofiness of the opening act cannot make up for the tedium that is "Cabot gets chased".