Thursday, May 22, 2008

Redbelt B

In theatres, 99 minutes, Rated R

Redbelt is that rare thing in film, the fight movie (in this case martial arts) that’s actually trying to be about something. In this case, honor and being true to yourself. The fighter is jujitsu/mixed martial arts master and trainer Mike Terry, played to perfection by the always dependable Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Children of Men). Terry can barely keep his gym afloat due to his insistence on living by a code of honor and respect. Meanwhile his beautiful wife Sandra (Alice Braga, most recently from I Am Legend) is losing patience as she supports them both through her clothing design business.

Old fighting buddies constantly contact Mike to mix it up in Ultimate Fighter-type competitions with big pay-offs, but he has too much integrity and holds too strongly to his ideals to cash them in for a quick payday. Through a series of double-crosses and crooked business dealings, ignited ironically when Terry steps up to protect an actor in a bar (Tim Allen), Mike is forced to consider stepping into the ring to protect those he loves and the code by which he has chosen to live his life.

David Mamet, one of the most respected play- and screenwriters in the industry (State and Main, Ronin, Wag the Dog, Glengary Glen Rose, The Untouchables) writes and directs here, which is why I found it so perplexing that some of the acting and dialogue seems so stilted. Mamet is able to draw talent even to small roles (Emily Mortimer, excellent; Tim Allen, awful, David Paymer, always excellent, and a whole host of character actors and Mamer regulars you’ll recognize but not know by name) but they often seemed wast. For instance, Tim Allen is ludicrous as an action star. At ten years too old and fifty pounds too fat, he immediately feels older than Harrison Ford in the new Indy. Likewise, a number of the scenarios seem too contrived for the film to play out well as realism. Is it really improbable to think anyone but a rich man wouldn’t sell a $20,000 watch for the money? But, the film doesn’t play that well metaphorically, either. The theme, of a man sticking to ideals supposedly celebrated in the society that has turned its back on him, is an interesting one that Mamet has explored before (multiple times in The Untouchables). Unfortunately, here the wrap-up is too convenient and Rocky (III-V)-esque to really win me over.

Where the acting may seem a bit beleaguered and the ending a bit too tidy, the fight scenes crackle with an authenticity and excitement that surprised me. In particular, the final fight was a rousing one, leading me to wish the film had taken a more traditional route to the kung fu flick. At 99 minutes, the length is right, and the film is never boring. It’s just not that interesting either. B

1 comment:

ch said...

You need to knock a review of Kung Fu Hustle on here...