Every week, I scour Netflix for a movie rated at one star and put it in my queue, suffering through it for your entertainment so that you don’t have to. In the past, I’ve taken on anime cancer demons, softcore Iraq War porn and racist ventriloquism, and this week I’m giving myself the gift of Gymkata.
Starring: A society that makes only slightly less sense than, say, the Mushroom Kingdom from Super Mario Bros.
This week, I turned 28, and as a birthday present to myself, I decided not to spend another afternoon plowing through the usual aneurysm-inducingly bad fare. Instead, I’ve decided to take a look at a movie that, while it lacks the coveted solo star on Netflix, is often ranked with the worst movies of all time despite the fact that it is quite possibly the single greatest action picture ever made. A film that thrilled a nation with its depiction of the most brutal and effective martial art known to man. A film that made its star a household name. A film that single-handedly inspired our country’s triumph over the Soviet Union.
I speak, of course… of Gymkata.
Released in 1985, Gymkata is the story of Kurt Thomas, a three time gymnastics world champion who was denied his shot at Olympic gold when the United States boycotted the 1980 summer games in Moscow and instead found himself five years later starring in a movie that makes absolutely no sense. Thomas plays (wait for it) Olympic gymnast Jonathan Cabot, who is recruited by the government for a mission of national security.
It seems that Uncle Sam wants to launch a nuclear warhead-detecting satellite from the Eastern European nation of Parmistan, although why it has to be launched from there is just the first of many, many things the makers of Gymkata won’t be bothering to explain. The catch is that Parmistan is a very strict nation that doesn’t allow any modern technology within its borders, and while you’d think that would make it pretty easy for any other country in the world to conquer, they’ve managed to get this far.
When Cabot asks why they don’t just send in some troops to make the whole satellite thing happen (cool diplomacy, bro), his government handler informs him that “direct military action is out of style.” What is in style? The Game, a thousand year-old traditional obstacle course through the Parmistanian countryside, the winner of which can make a single, presumably satellite-related request from the Khan of Parmistan. Thus, the future of America — no, of the world — is up to one man and one mullet: Jonathan Cabot.
Again, why exactly they go with Cabot rather than just sending in a soldier is never really addressed. After all, if a lifetime of television has taught me anything, it’s that army training is pretty heavily into obstacle courses and R. Lee Ermey yelling at you, so you’d think it’d be easier to get one of those guys into shape than to teach an Olympic gymnast to also be a ninja, but if I’m honest, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how I’d want my tax dollars spent.
The training itself is handled, of course, via montage, although what sets this movie apart from, say Karate Kid or Rocky IV (the second best movie about defeating communism by punching it) is that neither of those movies involved complex, lingering shots of Kurt Thomas’s junk. Gymkata, on the other hand, delivers.