If you want to hide an actor’s flaws, cast them in an action movie. There have been action stars who were terribly wooden, there have been action stars with crazy accents, there have been action stars that seemed to be unable to remember their lines, and all of them succeeded (at least for a little while) because it doesn’t take a lot of chops to kick someone in the face. But even in an action movie you have to frame that actor properly – you have to put them in some sort of scenario where their skill set applies, and you have to protect them by keeping them out of scenes where they don’t have to do more emoting than they can reasonably pull off.
Gymkata is an insane 80s movie which tried to turn Olympic gold medalist Kurt Thomas into an action star. Watching the movie you can see how that would have been possible: Thomas won his medals in gymnastics, and he moves fluidly and crisply; there are times when his fight scenes look plausible and cool. The problem is that the film continually fails to cover any of his flaws and it makes him look like a fool as a result.
Some of those embarrassing oversights can be forgiven because it was a low budget movie in the 80s: the plot about infiltrating a foreign country to compete in an ancient game of life and death makes no sense; the training montage is insane – at one point one of his trainers shows up with a falcon on his arm which is never explained or ever seen again; there are multiple scenes where he tries to learn how to walk up stairs on his hands, a skill which he never uses.
None of those things really matters in this sort of movie: they just become ironic bonuses. What does matter is the action scenes, and that’s where the movie really fails Thomas. The choreography is too literal minded, bringing in parallel bars and pommel horses to allow Thomas to use exact gymnastic moves as attacks, as if random alleyways in backwards countries naturally just have pommel horses hanging around. Thomas does too much flipping and jumping without contacting, and none of the people he’s fighting have much of a personality, so even when the fight scenes aren’t terrible they aren’t exciting.
That said, I can’t give a bad rating to a movie with an inexplicable falcon; I’m a sucker for that sort of inexplicable weirdness.