To the Death (1992)

Flawed kickboxing champ BJ Quinn has cleaned up his life and ironed out a lot of the character deficiencies he proudly displayed in American Kickboxer. He’s quit drinking, settled down and married his girlfriend, and is finally retiring from the sport and the violence that has been his life!

He’s even taken a stand against profanity, responding to his rival calling him an unflattering twelve letter word with “you shut your foul mouth and you hit the road! Look, I don’t need this shit!” Exactly B.J.! Guys like us living a straight edge, no profanity life don’t need some asshole polluting our gentlemanly air! That’s total bullshit!

As part of his extreme makeover, B.J. also wisely (and without explanation) drops the punkish initials and goes by the more adult Rick! Wow dude! It’s like you’re almost a totally different person! If I wasn’t distracted by the fact that your wife and your mortal enemy, Denard, are played by different actors than in American Kickboxer, I would complain that all this change to your character left me wondering just who you were anymore!

Thankfully, the rich guy (Le Braque) who runs the underground kickboxing to the death fights car bombs B.J.’s, I mean Rick’s, wife and Rick is forced to pull out all the stops and become the man we always knew was still somewhere deep inside of his bipolar soul. Yep, this means within three months of wife’s death, Rick is living in a flop house, drunked up 24/7, getting into bar fights and tossed out into the trash in an alley where the dubbed in screeching of cats make sure we know Rick has hit rock bottom.

Le Braque had Rick’s wife killed because Rick wouldn’t agree to fight in his private tournaments. Rick though agrees to fight for Le Braque after Le Braque bails him out of jail following one of his bar fights. If killing the wife was meant to send Rick into a downward spiral where he would suddenly agree to come out of retirement and kickbox in secret deathmatches, it was the most perfect, if somewhat far-fetched plan ever!

Rick explains he doesn’t’ like owing a guy a debt as a way to justify agreeing to the fights. If Rick’s best friend from American Kickboxer, Chad, was still around running that karate school for snot-nosed rich kids, he could’ve just picked up some cash teaching a class or two there to pay Le Braque back, but taking tens of thousands of dollars for four nights in one night has that combination of bad decision making and wanton violence that is Rick’s stock in trade.

Rick understandably has second thoughts after winning his first fight and seeing the referee pull out a gun and shoot his knocked out opponent in the head. But he has no issues with screwing the crap out of Le Braque’s wife, despite watching Le Braque have fighters killed and being personally threatened by Le Braque if he ever caught him screwing his wife! That Rick does so anyway even after mocking the woman’s drug and alcohol addiction makes an easy case for an armchair diagnosis that Rick is likely suffering a particularly aggressive case of CTE as well as acute horniness.

Le Braque sets up a final fight between Denard and Rick where he intends to kill both. Denard doesn’t believe Rick that anything more than good clean unregulated kickboxing is going on until he sees an execution in the ring. Following their fight though, Le Braque’s wife prevents Rick from being killed, allowing Rick and Denard to escape together.

For those of us who love the American Kickboxer/To the Death mythos, what happens next is like the sweetest kick to the nuts of our most hated enemy! Rick and Denard team up to mount a commando-style assault on Le Braque’s heavily guarded compound to rescue Le Braque’s wife! Memo to bad guys: only bad, really pointy and sharp things can happen when your boss leaves his archery gear laying around!

To the Death slides from amusingly bad (the car bomb followed by the hilariously over-the-top depiction of Rick’s crappy life post-bomb) to regular old boring once Le Braque, his wife and brother take center stage scheming, pontificating and bickering with one another. So much time is spent with these doofus bad guys that the film gives short shrift to Denard and another returning American Kickboxer vet, the muckraking reporter on the kickboxing beat, Willard.

While Denard at least gets to participate in the climax of the film, Willard’s part in things is so minimal, his character could have been eliminated with almost no change in the plot. Even Willard’s verbal antics which spiced up American Kickboxer are few and far between, despite being sorely needed for lengthy stretches of a movie filled with Le Braque trying to show what an arrogant rich prick villain he is by yammering every chance he got. All this Le Braque inaction had the unfortunate side effect of limiting the instances of kicking and punching and other forms of violence such films owe us.

Special mention must be made of the funky title tune “To the Death” that at least wakes up the viewer at the beginning and end of the film, as well as the cheesy voiceover narration by Rick that fittingly closed the film and the Rick/B.J. Quinn story.

© 2018 MonsterHunter

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