Mullets, Star Wars satellite sites, rampant anti-American sentiment… we look at why Gymkata is the most 80s film ever.
Gymkata has long been established as part of the world’s ‘bad movie’ canon. It has been the subject of a fantastic How Did This Get Made? podcast, has been mentioned multiple times on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, spoofed in 2007’s Hot Rod and was only made available on DVD by Warner Bros. because of an online poll. However its subject matter (and fashion choices) make it a true product of its time. In this case – 1985.
At the time this film was made, Ronald Reagan was President and the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. Tensions between the two powers were ever-shifting, especially with Reagan championing his controversial Star Wars missile program.
The film uses this as its entire premise: The US needs a base for their new satellite nuclear-weapon tracking system and the tiny country of Parmistan is the ideal spot – despite only being four miles across.
To get permission, the US must enter a contestant in “The Game,” a combination endurance test/obstacle course/fighting tournament whose winner is allowed one request. The US government wants gymnast Kurt Thomas to win the game and use his wish to have Parmistan host America’s missile-defense system. Oh and as an added incentive, Thomas’s father was killed participating in the last ‘Game’!
Clearly no one in the 80s really knew how satellites worked, because if this speck of land is essentially to your global defence system, it probably needs a rethink.
However as invading a country on a whim was a very Soviet thing to do, Gymkata shuns the two 80s action movie choices of one-man armies or all-out war by simply recruiting a lone gymnast to get the job done.
In this case, John Cabot who with his all-American good looks will break necks, take names and show how no one stops the USA from getting what they want!
Due to the US boycotting the Soviet Olympic Games, three-time World Champion Gymnast Kurt Thomas missed out on getting Olympic gold in 1980. Luckily, Enter The Dragon director Robert Clouse offered him something better – the lead in Gymkata.
Now sure, he’s only five foot five, has a mullet and looks like he’s barely through puberty, but Kurt Thomas is amazing at what he does. Forget the likes of Arnie, Sly and Bruce Willis. Can they work the parallel bars while kicking bad guys in the face? No they can’t.
Also, while undercover in a hostile country, our hero like to always wear red, white and blue! USA! USA!
You have the man, you have the mission. Now you have to train? How? By learning the skills of both the east and the west – from an angry black guy and a random Asian man who likes to hold an eagle, all via that most 80s of film tropes – the training montage. This includes white water rafting, knife work and, of course, chopping wood.
Also, it’s also very important that you learn to walk up stairs on your hands so the audience gets an unnecessary look at your crotch.
Evil Eastern Europeans
Sure, the ruler of Parmistan looks like Mel Brooks, but don’t worry the country still hates America! All the inhabitants are either mad, random flag ninjas or massive Russian-looking types that wear only tracksuits.
The love interest
Will Kurt Thomas’s boyish good looks and ability to do a back flip melt the cold heart of his contact Princess Rubali?
Find out on the 22 Jan at Southbank Club where you will learn how international conflicts are best resolved through the heroics of effete gymnasts!