Gymkata (1985)



The Scoop: 1985 R, and directed by Robert Clouse and starring Kurt Thomas, Tetchie Agbayani, and Richard Norton

Tagline: You are invited to witness the deadliest martial art of them all… The skill of gymnastics, the kill of karate.

Summary Capsule: What do you get when you take a gymnast and cross him with a karate expert? No, that wasn’t a setup for a joke. It’s the movie.

Justin’s rating: So how many times has “The Most Dangerous Game” been done as a movie so far? Like, 30?

Justin’s review: Step right up, step right up! Men and women, boys and very small dogs, come right up and see the tenth blunder of the modern world! See a dull Olympic sport fused with karate in the mismatch of the century! Revel in sights that will defy your brain’s ability to think sober! Shriek in horror at some of the ugliest faces ever to be recorded by moving picture!

Gentle readers of Mutant Reviewers, I give you Gymkata: the craziest movie of all time. Or, according to my wife, the crappiest movie of all time. Possibly, both.

When I first heard about the glory that is Gymkata, I knew I was in for a chuckle as I read the premise of a gymnast who’s trained for combat in a foreign country. I wrongly assumed it would end up being an effeminate James Bond knock-off – and for the first half-hour or so, I was right. However, about the time when Jonathan finds himself in a medieval country called Parmistan, where the only form of entertainment is when ninja chase down athletes who must navigate a village full of mentally deranged people, I quickly revised my opinion. This wasn’t just a chuckle; this was Sparta! Or, Sparkata!

Two things you must know before going into this movie – and you must, gentle reader, you must. One, this film wastes absolutely no fat in setting up any of the characters, plot or story. It’s such a lean animal that I suspect a jittery studio editor somewhere accidentally cut out about fifteen minutes or so of crucial dialogue and development, leaving us to flounder in the breathtaking pacing.

gymkata 2

Two, although you get the suspicion that someone is pulling your leg through the whole thing, this film was made – actors, director and writers alike – with earnest seriousness. They aren’t thinking, “This is a bucket full of bat guano, and I’m the dead fly in the middle.” They’re thinking, “Imma movie star!” while they spit out their last tooth.

Before minute 12 hits, we meet our gymnast hero, who is recruited by someone in the US government to infiltrate Parmistan and gain their trust so that the US can build a missile detection station within their borders. Only, Parmistan has yet to modernize past medicinal leeches and court jesters, and they make every visitor to their country play in a deadly game called – are you ready? – The Game, which pretty much kills every contestant. This does dampen tourism, you understand. So Jonathan agrees to this stupid mission because… well, this guy kind of came to his door, and his dad got killed in Parmistan, so he really had no choice. Then Jonathan goes through a goofy training montage of walking on his hands and fighting blindfolded. Then he meets a mostly-silent princess who keeps racking him in the groin and drawing knives on him, and he seduces her with backflips. They make out.

That’s all by minute 12. I kid you not.

Parmistan itself is a lark. It’s ruled by the “Khan”, who looks like the midget love child of Mel Brooks and Albert Einstein. The princess is also his daughter, although there’s no explanation why she left to go train/seduce Jonathan. She’s being forced to marry Zamir, a Chuck Norris-lite with more cleavage than her. That’s about all the deep plot you need to digest before Jonathan’s on the run in The Game, avoiding Flag Ninja* and rope burn alike.

With capital letters and whatnot, you’d assume The Game is a highly complicated test of endurance and skill. Not so much, it’s mostly just people running away from spear-wielding ninja and going through an obstacle course so tame that, in one scene, a troop of Girl Scouts are patiently waiting by for their turn on the ropes.

Zamir’s out to get Jonathan for putting the saucy eyes on his wench, and keeps trying to attack our agile hero. Fortunately for the side of all that’s good and chalky, Jonathan continues to find random gymnastic equipment lying around the countryside, which helps him in his gymnastics/karate demonstrations. By the end, you won’t even question why there’s a pommel horse in the middle of a village square. That’s how far gone your brain will be.

I got more howling laughs out of Gymkata than pretty much anything I’ve seen this year. The only other movies that even come close to this level of gonzo garishness are Black Belt Jones (which was also directed by Robert Crouse) and Masters of the Universe – and that is saying something. It comes highly recommended from the Mutants, perfect for any group party where you’re prepared for guests to be spitting their salsa when the next randomly doltish moment appears. You may need to lay down a tarp.

* Flag Ninja are the unofficial mascot of Gymkata. They exist solely to provide depressing semaphore.

“Honey, I’m going to buy you a training bra for your birthday. Seriously. Tuck it in.”


  • Jonathan looks like MacGuyver Junior. Nice mullet, man!
  • Why do you have to train by walking up stairs on your hand? Showing us your crotch?
  • Karbala is on the Caspian Sea. There will be a test on that, later.
  • Flag Ninja rules! Hi, Flag Ninja!
  • So the guy cut off his own hand for, what reason? Oh, he’s crazy.
  • The dude with the backwards mask face.
  • And the dude with full backal nudity
  • How could a very white European recluse have a swarthy Asian daughter?
  • Gymnastic equipment is far more prevalent than you think!
  • Parmistan has a 20:1 ugly people to pretty people ratio
  • Good moment: While the characters are explaining the route that The Game will take, my wife suddenly went, “Wait. Did they just say ‘Village of the Damned’?” Me: “Yup.”
  • Ninja on horseback trying to catch each other with a net-filled hula hoop is a Parmistan favorite
  • Backflips and twists are enough to melt the pants of any woman
  • The first half of this movie is bloodless to the point where you never see bullets tear clothing; the second half is Texas Chainsaw-gory. What gives?
  • If you’ve won the day and rescued your princess, all it gets you is a peck on the cheek.
  • So� what’s with the long, loooong slow-mo scene? And how come he can’t climb any higher to get to the roof?
  • An arrow to the chest and a 200 foot fall is easy to recover from
  • Kurt Thomas is an American Olympic gymnast. He was expected by many to win a gold medal at the 1980 Summer Olympics, but the games were boycotted by the United States government. In 2003, Thomas was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
  • Visitacion Parado, who is better known by her screen name Tetchie Agbayani, is a Filipina movie and television actress, psychology instructor and former beauty queen and Playboy model.

Groovy Quotes

Everyone: YAKMALLAH!

Often-Repeated Quote: Karbala, on the Caspian Sea

Zamir: You must understand, she’s mine.
Jonathan: It’s not over yet, so put your hardware back in your pants.

Paley: For the next two months, you’re going to toughen your mind and your body. It’s going to make your Olympic training look like finger-painting.

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