With an Eastern Bloc boycott in place to avenge America’s boycott of the Moscow Games, the 1984 Summer Olympics quickly became the most one-sided games in history. Any American who wasn’t tripped up by Zola Budd finished in the money in ’84. Even the Chicago Cubs won that year! It was a heartwarming scene for viewers everywhere, except in the countries that America beat or the ones that stayed at home, plotting to nuke us or something.
But the Games had a dark side too, and no proof of this is more potent than “Gymkata,” starring ’84 Olympic gymnastics champ Kurt Thomas. No, he does not team with Mary Lou Retton for more sports glory, but he does team with director Robert Clouse, who made the fantastic Bruce Lee vehicle “Enter the Dragon” and the wonderfully ridiculous Jim Kelly vehicle “Black Belt Jones” before making this turkey.
I had to look on the back of the movie box to understand the plot, which goes something like this: Thomas plays Jonathan Cabot, who is – no surprise – a world champion gymnast. Cabot’s just won an international gymnastics competition that is TOTALLY NOT THE OLYMPICS, REALLY IT’S NOT. (Maybe it was the Goodwill Games. This does get shown on Turner Cable stations sometimes.) He then joins a top-secret government agency THAT IS TOTALLY NOT THE CIA OR THE FBI, SERIOUSLY, and in the process probably passes up the chance to appear on a cereal box that, had it appeared in the movie, would TOTALLY NOT BE WHEATIES, REALLY. His mission? To go into the Mideast country of Parmestan and… sorry, I have no idea what he’s supposed to accomplish there, except to save a woman while he’s doing it. “Don’t worry, her mother’s Indonesian,” says the mission commander. Thanks for the tip, buddy.
To prepare for the mission, Cabot trains in the completely made-up martial art of Gymkata, combining gymnastics with hokey punching and kicking. Mostly this means Kurt Thomas shows us how athletic he is, which is cool until director Clouse gives us a long shot of Thomas’s bottom as he climbs stairs on his hands. Thanks again, movie.
The ridiculous training over, Cabot heads to Parmestan to compete in “The Game,” a yearly test of athletic prowess that is sort of like a medieval version of “Surviving the Game,” with guys on horseback shooting arrows at the contestants. Fortunately those who know the ways of Gymkata are ready for the obstacles of “The Game.” Stuck in a dead-end alley, Thomas looks up and- voila!- there’s a parallel bar, on which to swing. (Apparently Parmestan’s assassins are too dumb to duck). Later, trapped in the town square of the village of the criminally insane (I’m not making this up), Thomas bumps into a pommel horse. Yes, a pommel horse. So, of course, he gets on the pommel horse and does a gymnastic routine, kicking the loonies away. He wins “The Game,” thus reaching his vague goal.
Kurt Thomas’s career rebounded as soon as he retired from making movies. Good for him, and for us (though he has been seen on Chuck Norris’s infomercials). On the whole, this stinker may have been meant as entertainment, but it’s truly an action-adventure with a message, and that message is, stay the heck away from any movie that a Hollywood mogul dreamed up as a way to milk the Olympic Games.