American Kickboxer 1’s John Barrett reprises his role, sort of, in this official sequel to the 1991 film. However, unlike its predecessor, the film suffers from a cliched plot and fight scenes that seem okay, but doesn’t rank with the original film. However, the plus side comes in the form of Michel Qissi, who takes over for Brad Morris in the role of Barrett’s arch nemesis.
Rick Quinn has retired from the world of kickboxing and while everyone is happy that Quinn has had a successful run, one man isn’t happy. Jacques Denard is upset that Quinn has retired and not given him a chance to fight him in the ring for the title. An angry Denard goes to Quinn’s house and confronts the former champ only to get threatened by Quinn’s pregnant wife Carol. Denard leaves, but all is not forgotten. However, this soon becomes the least of Quinn’s worries.
Dominique LeBraque, an entrepreneur who has invested in recent underground fights, invites Quinn to join in on the fun. However, when Quinn learns that on a technicality, he would be once again be fighting as a professional, he rebukes LeBraque’s offer and leaves. LeBraque, determined to get what he wants, has Carol killed in an explosion. Quinn, learning that his unborn child was to be a girl, sinks into a bout of depression and becomes an alcoholic. He thinks Denard has something to do with his wife’s death and at one point, confronts him at a local bar but due to his drunken state, gets beaten by the arch-rival.
With nowhere else to go, Quinn turns to LeBraque, who has Quinn live with him while he trains. There is just one little catch. Quinn is never allowed to leave the premises and it is revealed that he strikes a friendship with LeBraque’s wife Angelica, who is more like a slave to LeBraque than a wife. She has pretty much grown tired of his corruption and ways.
Quinn soon becomes ready for his first fight in LeBraque’s underworld circuit. When he defeats his opponent, Quinn becomes shocked when he learns that the defeated opponent is shot and killed by the referee. LeBraque tells Quinn that all of the fights are to the death. As Quinn hopes to escape, he must continue to fight and soon strikes a relationship with Angelica. When LeBraque learns of Angelica’s affair with Quinn, he comes up with an idea. Quinn’s next opponent will be none other than his arch-rival Denard. When Quinn learns the truth about who killed his wife, he must convince Denard to not fight, but in fact team up with him to stop LeBraque once and for all.
What stood out in American Kickboxer 1 is that it told the story of redemption in the eyes of a kickboxing champion, played by John Barrett. However, sadly, as with the case of “sequels”, this is standard B-grade action fare. It is the typical underground tournament genre where the fighters face each other in fights to the death. However, the deaths don’t come in the forms of the fighters killing each other as seen in films like Shootfighter and Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor. Instead, the deaths are done by the referee of the fights who takes a gun and shoots the loser in the neck. This all comes after our villain throws a rose to determine the loser’s “fate”.
Another problem in the film is that there are returning characters from the original film but the question that comes to mind is why is Barrett’s character name changed from “B.J.” to “Rick”. In the original film, B.J. stood for Robert James and for those who have seen the original film, Quinn was banned from professional fighting for life after the accidental death of a partygoer. It seems that the screenwriter didn’t take the original character into consideration and that may pose a problem for fans who have seen the original and fans will begin to wonder what has happened.
On the plus side, there is Michel Qissi, perhaps best known as the deadly Muay Thai fighter Tong Po in Kickboxer and Kickboxer 2: The Road Back. Here, he takes the role of Denard (replacing Brad Morris), Quinn’s arch nemesis whose pent up rage gets him his wish of taking on Quinn in a rematch from American Kickboxer 1. However, it is not long before Denard even sees the truth and he is forced to become friends and allies with Quinn against the evil LeBraque. Qissi also took over as fight choreographer this time around and some fights look okay and some look pretty bad. The editing and cinematography this time around didn’t have the style that made its predecessor an above-average B-movie. However, one can only credit Qissi for doing his best in terms of technique, making Barrett look good on-screen with his flashy martial arts style.
In the end, To the Death may be standard and is somewhat of a continuation of American Kickboxer 1, but you will be asking yourself the same question over and over again: What did they do to John Barrett’s character himself?
WFG RATING: B-
Cannon Films presents a Distant Horizon and Tangent Pty. Ltd. production. Director: Darrell James Roodt. Producer: Anant Singh. Writers: Greg Latter and Darrell James Roodt. Cinematography: Mark Vicente. Editing: David Heitner.
Cast: John Barrett, Michel Qissi, Robert Whitehead, Michelle Bestbier, Claudia Udy-Harris, Ted LePlat, Greg Latter, Norman Antsey, Len Sparrowhawk.