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Friday 8 January 2021

Burl reviews Gymkata! (1985)


Hi-ya and yakmalla, it’s Burl, here to review a well-loved classic of le bad cinema! I’ve owned a big-box MGM/UA VHS tape of this entry for a long time, but until the other night had never bothered to sit down and watch the thing! (I’ve also never watched Ninja III: The Domination, another legendarily enjoyable bad movie released by MGM/UA, but then again I don’t own a copy of that one! One day I’ll catch up to it, though!) And, though you may already have guessed it, the picture I’d like to talk about today is Gymkata!

Yes, ha ha, Gymkata! I think we all know this movie! Evidently, in the wake of the 1984 Olympics, someone, somewhere, decided that gymnast Kurt Thomas should become an action hero, and developed a story in which he becomes the master of a gymnastic martial art called gymkata! (I don’t recall them ever saying the word “gymkata” aloud in the movie, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose!) And the big secret of gymkata is to be sure there’s a bar or a pole or a pommel horse close by so that you can swing around it and kick people in the head! And if there happens to be no athletic equipment close at hand, you can do a bunch of flips, somersaults, and cartwheels! Ha ha, economy of movement is evidently not a central precept of this particular defensive art!

The plot is, quite simply, a crazy nonsense! The little nation of Parmistan, famed for its citizens' love of hard cheese and their constant cries of “Yakmalla,” is also known for its harsh immigration policy: every newcomer must undertake the inevitably fatal “Game,” which consists of being chased across the countryside by commandos and negotiating such obstacles as a steep gorge, a sheer cliff, a confusing forest, and a town populated exclusively by maniacs who keep a carved-stone pommel horse in their square! The US wants to put a secret Star Wars radar base in the country, but diplomacy has failed to achieve this end, and straight force is out of the question!

Clearly a secret agent-gymnast is the hero required for this mission, and the government, represented here by Edward Michael Bell from The Premonition, has one on standby! It’s Jonathan Cabot, a hoppy-jumpy dwarf unburdened by personality, who’s willing to master The Game by learning new techniques from a series of teachers! These techniques include flip-wrestling and walking up the stairs on his hands! He also receives counsel from the Princess of Parmistan herself, played by the comely Filipina Tetchie Agbayani, well known from The Money Pit!

Once he arrives in Parmistan and begins to play The Game, Cabot finds enemies around every corner! Richard Norton, who did about a million low-rent action pictures and also showed up in Mad Max: Fury Road, plays Commander Zamir, in charge of both maintaining The Game’s rules and subverting The Game’s rules! Bob Schott from Vamp and Head of the Family plays Thorg, a rival player determined to kill Cabot for his propensity to spring about like a leprechaun!

And then there’s The Khan, the country’s leading shouter of “Yakmalla!” and a personage unaccountably played by muscle-bound homunculus Buck Kartalian, from Please Don’t Eat My Mother and The Outlaw Josey Wales! Ha ha, he wears a big fur hat and plays The Khan like a conventioneer at a costume party, and seems never to stop shouting “Yakmalla!” He’s a good guy, as it turns out!

Robert Clouse, who directed The Pack, was in charge of all this lunacy, and indeed one must admit that the fights, as dumb as they are, contain some impressive athleticism from Kurt Thomas! I liked that there was some 80s action gore sprinkled here and there, which is something that always improves a picture; and of course the convenient, horselaugh-inducing presence of the pommel horse and other gymnastic necessities provides plenty of entertainment value! The performances stink, and there’s a backbreaking cape of stupidity draped across the whole thing, but that’s to be expected! I’m glad I watched it, I suppose, and I look forward to Ninja III! In the meantime I give Gymkata one and a half reverse faces! Yakmalla!


  1. Sadly Kurt Thomas died last year, so we'll never get a sequel. You didn't mention there's also a man called Thorg in it, presumably someone was hoping for action figure spin-offs. But a gem of throwing anything at the wall to see what sticks (including Thorg).

    1. Ha ha, I may not have communicated quite how enjoyable this very bad movie was! I did mention Thorg though, if too briefly! And R.I.P. Kurt! You were no taller than three bricks and a short refrigerator, but you sure could jump around!