Best Of The Best (1989)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
Robert Radler Robert Radler
Eric Roberts Eric Roberts
Phillip Rhee Phillip Rhee
James Earl Jones James Earl Jones
Sally Kirkland Sally Kirkland
Chris Penn Chris Penn

6.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres: Action, Martial Arts, Sports Drama
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: August 28, 2007
Welcome, once again, to the 'Movies of My Youth' segment of the site. Today's film -- "Best of the Best", that classic martial arts film with a pretty top notch cast and some damned fine melodrama. It produced a string of sequels, most notably the sequel starring Wayne Newton, but nothing comes close to what the first film offered in terms of action, drama and Sally Kirkland's hair. "Best of the Best" is the cream of the crop.

The film focuses on a United States team headed to Korea for the world finals in Tae Kwon Do. It's not the Olympics, but I'll be damned if they don't treat it as such. James Earl Jones stars as Coach Couzo, who makes it his mission to train the men the best he can -- because winning is all that matters. Alex Grady (Eric Roberts) is competing for his mother and son and wants to make both of them proud. Tommy Lee (Phillip Rhee) is fighting to mentally avenge the death of his brother, who was killed by a rival during a match. Travis Brickley (Chris Penn) is just fighting because he loves to fight, nothing more -- he's a cowboy with a jump kick. Sally Kirkland co-stars as Coach Wade, who cares more about the men, personally, than Coach Couzo.

The film is, basically, two parts. The first is training. We watch as the men train and get to know each other. We actually get an unusual amount of character development for an action film. Alex, Tommy and Travis are the three primary challengers the film focuses on, probably because they're the most entertaining. We see what makes them tick and why they're doing what they're doing. The second part of the film is the event itself, as we watch each of the men face their opponent, some coming out on the good end, and some on the bad. The final match boils down between Tommy Lee and the man who killed his brother, and of course we get that scene where he must decide whether or not he should kill him. It's as cliched as they come, but entertaining as hell.

I just love James Earl Jones in this film, getting to be all bad ass. How in the hell does a man his size and age train these men in Tae Kwon Do? That is never really answered -- we just take it at face value. It pretty much seems like these guys train themselves, for the most part. Phillip Rhee is all angst and yells as Tommy. He's not a strong actor, but he makes up for it in his ability to shake and cry at the same time. Good old Eric Roberts is as good as he always is as Alex -- acting with a capital 'A' and showing everyone why he's the Roberts family member with all the talent. Comic relief comes in the form of Chris Penn and he is up to the challenge.

For all its kick-assity, "Best of the Best" is cliched. You see everything coming a mile away and nothing really hits you by surprise. However, the actors here do their best with the material and make it watchable. I just miss the days when an action film like this could be released and find mainstream success. The classic action films and martial arts films of the 1980's are due a comeback, and "Best of the Best" could see a remake down the road, I am sure. Replace James Earl Jones with Chi McBride and Eric Roberts with...well...I am sure we could keep Eric Roberts. "Best of the Best" is a lot of fun...and sap. Mmmmm...sap.

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