GYMKATA (1985) begins when the Special Intelligence Agency (SIA) approaches Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) asking him to play “The Game”. This contest forces all foreigners who enter the tiny mountain-side nation of Parmistan into a test of endurance through a deadly obstacle course (picture a deadlier version of Survivor). The winner is allowed to live and is granted one wish. The agency that hires Cabot wants that wish to be a U.S. satellite monitoring station for the Star Wars defense program that monitors against foreign missile attacks. Think about that for a second – the SIA, which we’ll assume is a U.S. government funded operation, wants a third-world country to provide them with an operating Star Wars satellite. Let that plot sink in for a moment or two.
Jonathan agrees to participate in the game but only to find his lost father. It’s believed that his father, a former SIA operative, played the game years ago but remains alive somewhere in Parmistan. Soon after Jonathan and his partner Princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani) arrive, they are attacked by opposing agents. Jonathan and the princess run and fight their way through the streets only to be saved by the SIA agent that hired them. Shortly after this, Jonathan and the Princess attend the game’s opening ceremonies.
At the ceremony, we’re introduced to the rest of the game’s participants (well, the two that matter). There’s Zamir (Richard Notron), who ends up being the game’s bad guy, and Thorg (Bob Schott), whom Jonathan recognizes as a former athletic competitor. The rest of the participants are also present but are just meat-fodder for Zamir and Thorg. At this point, the game begins and all participants are forced from the ceremony, running for their lives.
Where do I start? I actually enjoyed GYMKATA for what it is. Prior to watching the film for this review, I had seen it years ago but had completely forgotten what it was about. It’s sort of a forgettable picture. Still, I never had the urge to hunt the film down in order to watch a 140 pound gymnastics sensation fight terrorists and crazies using a mix of gymnastics and Karate. After all, the idea sounds ludicrous on so many levels. From a script perspective, the whole idea is just plain silly and would never happen. Performances from the cast are average at best. Considering lead Kurt Thomas’ lack of acting experience going into the film, he manages to service the picture quite nicely.
GYMKATA was directed by Robert Clouse. The screenplay was written by Charles Robert Carner and was adapted from Dan Tyler Moore’s novel “The Terrible Game”. The film’s editor was Robert A. Ferretti. GYMKATA was shot in and around the country formerly known as Yugoslavia (now comprised of several smaller countries) and was distributed and released by MGM in May of 1985. The budget for the film was $8.5 million and the box office totals were $5.7 million making it a financial failure. The Star Wars satellite program used as a plot-device was a real element of the 1980s Cold War, referencing the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) initiated March 23, 1983, under President Ronald Reagan.
Prior to GYMKATA, Robert Clouse directed Bruce Lee in the now classic ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) as well as the classic Blaxploitation film, BLACK BELT JONES (1974) starring Jim Kelly. Other films of note are THE GAME OF DEATH (1978), THE BIG BRAWL (1980) and the terribly bad TRONHEART (1992) starring Bolo Yeung and Richard Norton of GYMKATA. Robert A. Ferretti went on to edit such films as TANGO AND CASH (1989), DIE HARD 2 (1990), ROCKY V (1990) and UNDER SIEGE (1992) just to name a few.
I could easily trash GYMKATA and tell you to stay away from it, but I won’t. The fact is, it’s a fun film to watch and to make fun of because it’s a subpar picture. So, see it, just don’t expect too much from it.
Contributed by: Mike Murphy