Overthinking…Gymkata

The fabled stone pommel horse.

Yeah, so. Gymkata: a film from 1985 about an American gymnast who must train to win a sort of deluxe obstacle course in the “tiny,” “savage” country of Parmestan with the help of that country’s part-Indonesian princess. The idea is that by winning the game, he’ll smooth diplomatic relations so that the U.S. can house some kind of satellite-tracked missile base there, which, of course.

A friend saw this as a kid and remembered an ass-kicking the hero delivered atop a pommel horse. Eventually, she tracked it down. She and S and I watched it while her fella slept in protest of the movie’s senselessness. The movie is one long head-shaker. For instance, there’s a cut between the princess and the gymnast (ha!) talking to some guy in the “coastal city of [oops, forgot name]” and then suddenly they are whitewater rafting while ninjas look on from ashore.

The main thing that stuck with me, from a storytelling perspective, was that it ends (um…spoiler alert…? WHO COULD CARE?) on a freeze-frame with the news that the gymnast’s victory in the game secured the future of the U.S. base’s location in Parmesan, I mean Parmestan.

This is funny to me because it suggests a desire on the part of the filmmakers to indicate real-world stakes for the U.S. – but they kept the U.S. of the real world and made up a silly country in which to stage the completely fanciful games. Then there’s the fact that although I’ve made a big deal about the diplomatic relations thing, it’s only because I thought it was an especially goofy touch. It’s only present in the quick debrief the gymnast gets at the beginning of the movie and the freeze-frame at the end. The filmmakers assume we remembered that little bit and give a shit, when actually if there was any story we were invested in, it would be the gymnast’s. We get his half-assed love story with the Princess Rimbaldi and there’s even a long-lost father, but somehow – improbably enough! – these aren’t enough to genuinely engage the viewer.

I’m being hard on it, though. I mean, it is surpassingly stupid as a film, but if you watch it in the spirit of MST, it could maybe be at least amusing. As one of the IMDB reviewers pointed out, mullets abound.

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