It’s the early ‘80s and you want to make an action movie. How do you make it stand out?
Do you spend big bucks to get some star power? Nah, you don’t have the budget for that. Actually, you don’t have much of a budget at all. So how do you expect to make an action movie?
That’s right, that’s literally the entire basis of the 80’s action film, “Gymkata.” In the age of “Terminator” and “Rambo,” someone thought that it would be a good idea to make an action movie based around gymnastics. Hiring a gymnast instead of an actual actor means they had more budget to stretch over the rest of the movie.
This also means that their protagonist can’t act at all.
To supplement the fact that he can’t act, they instead ask him to just constantly do gymnastics moves. Having a romantic moment? Back-flip a couple times. Fighting some bad guys? Do a pommel horse routine.
But that isn’t actually what makes “Gymkata” bad. On the contrary, the gymnastics that this man performs is the best part of this film. I’m either in awe at him actually pulling it off or rolling on the ground laughing at how out of place they are.
No, where this movie fails is the editing. I know I seem like a bit of a broken record, but editing is something that really separates good movies from bad ones. Most bad movies could have been improved greatly through some competent editing, despite the other flaws they may have.
The lack of editing skills rears its ugly head from the first shot of the film. It cuts between shots of our hero doing a normal bar routine and shots of a man running through some sort of obstacle course while running from what looks like ninjas and Huns. The cuts happen at seemingly random intervals while the background sound switches between a heartbeat and generic ‘80s action brass.
What’s worse is that the running scene is made completely useless by a 15-minute scene later in the film. See, its supposed to set up what our hero will end up having to do later in the movie, and the opening scene does an okay job of that.
What ruins it is that they then have two scenes later in the movie that serve the same purpose.
In the first, they have a king explain the entire course that the hero needs to go through over an excruciatingly long scene. This is then followed by our hero watching some prisoners run the course. And the part that they run? Exactly the same part we saw the guy in the beginning run, except now instead of two minutes, it takes 10.
That is one of my issues with the movie personally is that it feels incredibly long despite having a run-time of only 90 minutes. That’s pretty short for movie standards, yet this film felt incredibly drawn out and slow-paced. Its almost like they didn’t have any interesting things to put in the film except that the protagonist is a gymnast.
The film’s saving grace in my eyes is all of the deus-ex-machina that has to take place just so the protagonist can do his gymnastics stuff in fights. In one scene he is running down an alley only to find a pipe at the perfect height for him to do a bar routine that involves kicking the bad guys in the face.
The best scene in the whole movie is when the hero finds himself trapped in a town full of deranged townsfolk. He gets pushed into the center of town, surrounded by a mob of people with physical deformities (the casting for these parts must have been really sad), only to have his saving grace be the two pipes sticking out of the top of the closed off well that create a perfect pommel horse. He then just kicks people while doing a pommel horse routine for about five minutes. I spent those five minutes in stitches just at the idea of there being a perfect pommel horse in the middle of town.
There was also one shot in this movie that had really well done composition that completely spoiled a plot twist later in the film.
See, the protagonist and his love interest were sent to Parmistan (I guess an Italian-Middle Eastern country?) by the U.S. government through an agent that acted like Q from James Bond.
During one shot, they have the camera shooting through a window, creating a line between our protagonist and the agent. This immediately told me that he was going to turn on them, only for him to do exactly that about 15 minutes later. I was honestly stunned that this movie had a shot that told that much through only its composition and was disappointed when that was the only shot in the movie to do so.
I rate movies from 10 to -10, with negative meaning they are so bad they’re good. This movie gets a -5 because despite how hilarious it is at times, it drags on so long and is incredibly boring for a majority of its run time.
If you want to watch it, I suggest only finding a highlights reel online because there are really only a few scenes worth watching.
Today I’m going to give a shout out to shot composition, which when used well can communicate information to the audience without them knowing it. You can instill distrust in a character or show power differential using only the position of the camera. A good shot will inform an audience in multiple ways either through the use of lines, color, scale or even lighting.
Next time you get a gut feeling about something in a film, I recommend rewinding and looking out for some of these to see how they made you feel that way.
This was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon and edited by Margot McClellan.