Starring Michael Jai White, Dean Geyer, Alex Meraz, Todd Duffee
Fight Choreography by Larnell Stovall
Directed by Michael Jai White
Michael Jai White has been kicking ass ever since, well, ever. Films like Spawn, Silverhawk, and more have shows that he is a skilled martial artist and actor. He began to take his career into his own hands with the kickass Undisputed 2, and then Blood and Bone, to the terrific Black Dynamite.
Larnell Stovall first came to the attention to many in the world of fight choreography with Undisputed 3, Bunraku and then with Mortal Kombat: Legacy webseries. His star in the world of martial arts cinema is rising more and more.
So how both of them drove this film off a god***n cliff escapes me.
First, a caveat: I’m not a fan of UFC, Pride, or any of that stuff. While I respect mixed-martial arts as a style I don’t like the overly arrogant macho-aggressive attitude that accompanies many within the MMA culture. Maybe that attitude helps in regards to ring fighting, but it’s not something I care for, so please keep that in mind as you read this review.
The film opens as we find Mike Stokes (Geyer) arriving at college, and already we can see that he’s a troubled kid, specifically in regards to his father. As the film goes on we find out what his problem with his Dad is, and any mention of it drives Stokes into fits of anger and rage. He soon gets involved with a group of fighters all trained by an ex-con named Case Walker (MJW) a former professional MMA fighter who could have been great had it not been for his past, which is revealed as the film goes on. The other fighters include Zack Gomes, a former boxer who may lose his sight if he fights again, and whose girlfriend catches Stokes’ eye. There is also big man Tim Newhouse (Duffee) whose family is in crisis as his mother is forced to work in a strip clip to provide for the family (no mention of what happened to his father) and last is the unhinged comic book clerk Justin Epstein who quickly shows a darker side once he feels he’s learned all he needs to from Case. Everything culminates in The Beatdown, an underground MMA fighting tournament. Stokes has to face both rival Gomes and the twisted Epstein while Case tries to survive a group of douchebag cops determined to run him out of town, and come to terms with his past…
The problems with this film really starts with the script, in which some of the plots go nowhere, or end in a “meh”. The dialog flies the gamut from simple to just plain bad. Case had the most interesting story of any of the fighters, and should have been the main character, but since this is following a formula of concentrating on the young fighters, that couldn’t happen, which is almost this film’s biggest flaw. The acting ranges from good (MJW) to bad (everyone else). None of the primary characters felt real, just archetypes. MJW’s directorial debut is technically good, and the camera takes good angles on everything, but the direction of the actors may have been part of the problems. The background actors were just plain horrid, and many dramatic scenes involving the principals didn’t have the “oomph” they needed. That, and the biggest problem is that since he is directing, he isn’t in front of the camera, where he works best.
The fight choreography is just plain disappointing. Yes, it may be MMA, but somewhere along the way Stovall forgot that this has to be an entertaining film first. He remembered this with Undisputed 3, which carried fighting that included many MMA-style moves, but it was dynamic movement that was entertaining to watch on film. Here he seems to lose focus on this, except for one fight: Case Walker versus a group of cops. Of any fight in this film this fight felt right. This fight was the Blood and Bone type of fight I wanted to see from MJW. It was good from a cinematic standpoint, and once again allowed us to see MJW in action doing what he does best! As I watched, I came to the conclusion that if I want to see an MMA fight, I’ll watch it on pay-per-view. I don’t need or want to see a choreographed version of it.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Outside of the one MJW fight, none of the fights are impressive or even interesting. I hold Stovall to a high standard, and expected more than this. He simply forgot to make the fights entertaining–to everyone.
STUNTWORK: (5) The work here was decent, but nothing to write home about.
STAR POWER: (5) MJW is the biggest star here, and as for the youngsters, none of the them made an impression on me.
FINAL GRADE: (5) Michael Jai White is barely in this film, and has one good fight. The rest of the film features uninteresting characters and fights, and unlike many of MJW’s other films, this one deserves to be a DTV film.