bashing the movie Gymkata is probably as big of a sport on the internet as gymkata itself isn't. Doctoral dissertations could be written about its transcendent awfulness. Still, like the tall trees in the forest, I can't help but wonder if it's not crowding out other, equally bad movies that deserve a crack at the sunlight. Maybe there's some other '80s MGM offering that is just as bad that's now owned by those swarthy Warner brothers. Louis B. Mayer must be spinning in his grave. MGM's the anti-Disney: a movie studio of grandiosity and opulence that, unlike Disney, who's making all the right business moves, at some point MGM began making bad move after disastrously bad move, dying the death of a thousand cuts, yet still firmly believing a good bleeding is just what the doctor ordered. Yeah, 200 years ago!
So while I have neither the time nor the academic interest or energy to provide a thorough examination of the transcendent awfulness that is Gymkata, I'll just hit a few of the high points, and include a few lessons learned, and then move on. First of all, Gymkata taught me that there are a lot of movies that have machine guns in them, but the bad ones just show the gun by itself. Take the scene, for example, where Jonathan Cabot and the girl are running through the labyrinthine back alleys of... let's say, Yugoslavia. A dude fires his machine gun at the two, but misses, fortunately. Or unfortunately, depending on your point of view. John Carpenter's They Live is another example of this. This framing technique may work in a war pic, but only if used sparingly. Not to mention the phallic quality of it all, of course.
(I would like to mention that this scene contains one of my favorite parts. Watch how this guy with a machine gun who looks like Jim Belushi takes off running after dodging the blue cop car! Nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie, indeed! So much effort...)
Second, all those years of Windows 95 are paying off in spades. Imagine! A desktop computer serving as some sort of novelty toy, making noises with each submenu popping up. What would the bridge club say? Fortunately, the world's computer-using population has matured since then, but has scarred me irreparably for life, and I can now pick out the smallest blip of sound with the greatest of ease. And this thud of a falling body caught my ear one lonely night... as some of you regular readers of my blog know, and there are at most ten of you, I'm currently reviewing Stooge shorts in my own little bid for Julie Powell-esque glory. And so, here's the sound effect from Dutiful but Dumb. Here's the sound effect in They Stooge to Conga (it's a little muffled). Here's the sound effect used in Cactus Makes Perfect. And here's the sound effect from Higher than a Kite. I rest my case. And!! And if that wasn't enough, they use it at least a second time in Gymkata itself!!!
Okay, so it's not the Wilhelm Scream.
As for the game itself and the fictional country of Parmistan, the lynchpin of the real Cold War, let me just stoop to say that even the thirdest of third world countries have some rules to their games. In Parmistan, known for their exports of Parmistan cheese and their vast population of crazy, toothless people, the object of their game is to run an obstacle course. And at any point along the way, usually when you're crossing a chasm on a rope... you can be shot with an arrow. Bad sportsmanship. The kind of bad sportsmanship that might make a person not want to watch the movie that's depicting it. But I don't want to give the idea that my level of emotional investment in this is that deep.
I will give the film some kudos, however. The musical score's rather average, but the dude gets one fight scene right. And to all the Lee Strasberg-types out there who say that gymnast Kurt Thomas can't act, I submit the following scene. The dude with the awesome man-cleavage, who looks like he's on the handsome side of the Tom Green bloodline, hurls his two knives at the space to the right of Thomas's head and... wham! He doesn't even blink! He doesn't even flinch!!! Take THAT, Betty White! I don't care if it was camera trickery. It's worth something in my book. And having flirted with the sport of gymnastics for about two weeks in my childhood, I have grown to appreciate physical prowess of most any stripe. Kurt Thomas may lack comedic chops, but the guy knows how to do some flips.
And of course, the big fight scene at the end. It seems like it was yesterday when I first saw that part of Gymkata on cable, our hero flailing away at the pommel horse-shaped centerpiece of the town square, baddies bouncing off his swinging feet with resounding "THWACK!" noises. And for some reason, I still think that the whole scene is filmed at that one angle, even though it clearly is not. Ah, the days before Troll 2 existed.
In summation, as much as I hate to cut this review short, I have to. While the omniscient, omnipresent Leonard Maltin guide tries to brush Gymkata aside as a "silly martial-arts potboiler" and "amateurish stuff," giving it a BOMB rating (one star), they sort of miss the point. The point is, even though it's based on a novel called "The Terrible Game," this so-called "terrible" movie helped win the Cold War! As the end title card tells us, "In 1985 The First Early Warning Earth Station Was Placed In Parmistan For The U.S. Star Wars Defense Program." (The all-caps is not mine, that's the way it is in the movie) Gymkata is all in one: a love story, an adventure story, and there's even some father-son redemption, even if the son doesn't help the father get that one last arrow out of his back. Also, Gymkata is not the story of a movie star run amok with his own power; say, like Dan Aykroyd with Nothing but Trouble. YouTube features many scenes from that sorry sack, but someone may post the whole thing eventually, perhaps a YouTube user named "TheRealDannyAykroyd" or something.
Also, there may come a day when a good dramatic movie about gymnastics is made, but after Gymkata and American Anthem, Hollywood seemed to stop trying. Really stop trying... okay, I haven't checked this whole list. Maybe someone else can for me. One final toast to MGM, the now defunct studio that once brought us Gymkata and Death Wish II! And a bunch of other stuff that's clearly not as good.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan