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High Kicks (1993)

Directed by Ruta K. Aras
Vista Street Entertainment VHS

I’ve watched this movie a dozen times now, and I always ask myself the same two questions:

1. Holy fucking cats, why am I watching this again — haven’t I been through enough?
2. Is it actually possible to count all the montages in this movie?

The answer to each question is the sound of me crying.

The movie opens on an aerobics studio called High Kicks! (exclamation mark included). “Take it to the left on four! One, two, three, and four!” There are many shots of firm derrieres and bouncing breasts and impossibly hard nipples. It’s that special time in fashion when ladies wear thong leotards over bicycle shorts. It’s a good look — one that says, hey, I’m sexy, but I’m also classy because I’m wearing shorts and not baring my full ass and please note the strategically placed rips in my leotard that lets you check out my cleavage. The first few minutes of this movie will seduce you. You will get pregnant.

High Kicks! needs part-time help, and here comes someone with long, sun-kissed locks of blonde hair. His name is Sam. He’s a sailor and he needs some coin because just floating around in his little yacht is somehow not lucrative. Sandy the aerobics instructor gives Sam the job. Soon trouble comes in the form of a gang, except it’s not really a gang. They call themselves a “tribe” for reasons that aren’t clear. My guess is that “tribe” sounds gay and therefore scary because if there’s one thing that scares America, it’s a bunch of gay people and their desire to marry each other.

TC is the leader. You know this because if you mouth off he’ll say, “Are you trying to pull rank on me?” But rest assured, you’ll feel unafraid because he’s just a fat guy in an undershirt and sweatpants. He looks like a dude whose mom is trying to make him lose weight. The other guys in the tribe look just as tough. There’s Bo Man, a bro in a vest (which is a very misunderstood article of clothing); and Rico, a black guy in a pink B.U.M. Equipment shirt (you know the one). There’s also Mackie, an Asian with a mullet and a large earring that proves he doesn’t give a shit about your feelings. Finally there’s Choots, who wears a Raiders jersey, khaki shorts, and white tube socks pulled all the way up. He could almost pass for an actual Crip, except for the fact that he’s wearing a fedora. Basically you see this “tribe” and you think yes, yes, I want what they want. And what they want is rape.

Poor Sandy gets raped through her leotard and through TC’s sweatpants. She is upset. But you know what Sandy really needs (after the prerequisite post-rape shower)? A little basic self-defense training. Luckily, Sam has something to show her. Hint: It’s not in his pants.

There are two ripped, tanorexic men fighting in the park. One of them looks exactly like Jean Claude Van Damme but is not actually Jean Claude Van Damme, so it’s hard not to feel cheated. One man gets beat. The other points to Sam — it’s his turn. Sam takes off his shirt because that’s what you’re supposed to do in a throwdown. Sandy watches in horror as Sam fights and wins — Oh, but wait! They’re all actually besties and fellow karate experts! I’ve eaten a Cheeto with a bigger twist than that.

Sam teaches Sandy karate (which is pronounced ka-ra-TAY exactly once) and in a touching moment Sam shares how he got into this sacred martial art.

“I sailed into a port where the neighbors weren’t very friendly, and it happened.”
“You were raped?”
He nods.

And that’s the end of that.

Keep in mind that Sam has a yacht. A fucking yacht! People with yachts don’t get raped. They either rap, traffic coke, or are George Clooney. But if there’s one thing this movie teaches us, it’s that rape is no big deal, just a thing that happens in Marina del Rey or after a fat-burning cardio class. Also it teaches us that Jean Claude Van Damme is not in this movie.

Together Sandy and her coterie of men track down each tribe member and rough them up. It is what the people call a good time. The fight sequences are as entertaining as they are poorly executed. The guys in Sandy’s “tribe” really are karate experts and it’s obvious they’re scared of breaking Bo Man’s mandible with their roundhouses. I go back and forth between marveling at their pulled punches and their gleaming white teeth. By the way, the secret to whiter teeth is having a very tan face.

But throughout all of this, there are a horrifying, sickening number of montages. I can’t think of another movie that has a montage followed by another montage that, two minutes later, is followed by yet another montage of the same exact shit. It’s endlessly entertaining at first, but at some point you feel like you’re watching an extended karaoke video, only without the lyrics or the hit song. Here is some karate on the beach. Some karate in the park. Some aerobics in the studio. Some sailing. More karate. Hey, they are eating cake and having a good time! More aerobics! You think the montages are done? No wait, cue the synths because we’re back on the beach practicing kicks.

At some point, Sandy realizes she can combine her first passion — aerobics — with her new one — Sam’s dick. No wait, I meant karate. “It’s great exercise men and women can do together!” She says this without irony, without a wink or a hint of a smile. Surely this required a lot of willpower on part of the actress. Kudos to you Tara Lee-Anne Roth, wherever you are. I’m going to buy you a Michelob Ultra, but first I must suffer through fifteen minutes of “Karobics” montage. I’ve calculated that High Kicks is 80% montage, 20% aerobics, and 0% nudity.

This really is the only movie I can think of that has four karate choreographers, several stunt choreographers, an aerobics choreographer, and a Karobics choreographer in its credits. It’s also the only movie Ruta K. Aras ever wrote and directed. Clearly a talent was not fully developed or explored. Aras could’ve made a contender to Samurai Cop.

Every time I sit down to watch this movie, I say, OK, this is it, the last time. Never again. And then I see the movie’s final shot — a freeze-frame on an actual high kick — and I wonder if I can truly escape the magnetic pull. Put it this way: You know how you have that pair of shoes you shouldn’t be wearing? Maybe they smell like a dog’s mouth or are on the brink of disintegration. But they’re right there so you find yourself reaching for them. You literally have to throw them away to stop wearing them, and yet, you can’t. This sums up High Kicks. It’s a fetid pair of comfortable sneakers you love against your better judgment.