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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Undefeated
Undefeated
HBO // Unrated // March 23, 2004
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted August 23, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

I'm a big fan of actor/writer/comedian John Leguizamo. His stand-up comedy always keeps me in stitches, and he's a much stronger dramatic performer than he is given credit for. Fair enough, The Pest was a smoldering pantload and virtually anyone would not come off well if they found themselves stuck in Super Mario Brothers or Spawn. Yet he's done fine work in Summer of Sam, Carlito's Way, Romeo and Juliet, and was one of the few positive elements I could stomach throughout the vile Moulin Rouge .

In Undefeated , Leguizamo gets to exercise his talents as not only a dramatic performer but also as a director (he also has a story credit on the film.) The HBO telefilm deals with the story of Lex Vargas, an up-and-coming boxer whose dreams involve glory in the ring as well eventually escaping the everyday confines of his Queens neighborhood. He works in a local grocery run by his older brother Chewey (Adrian Martinez), who warns the young fighter that people only pay Latinos to "watch them beat the crap out of each other." Tragedy strikes early on in the film when Chewey is shot and killed during an attempted robbery. Devastated by the loss, Lex suddenly finds himself unencumbered by what has always been his moral foundation. Encouraged by his boyhood friend and manager Loco (Clifton Collins Jr.), he begins training and earnest and soon finds himself at the top of his game. The accoutrements soon follow: he's making copious amounts of dough, lives in a big beautiful house, walks around with an entourage, and wins the affections of the smokingly-fine Lizette (Vanessa Ferlito), seemingly the girl of his dreams. Lex's success seems to have no limit, but in the process he begins to lose everything: his relationship with his buddies, his girlfriend, his self-respect, and even the honor of his brother's memory.

I tried to enjoy Undefeated , but the film suffers terribly due to some rather clunky dialogue and clich├ęd situations. The cast is uniformly solid: Leguizamo does give a fine performance, and I was especially impressed by the work of Clifton Collins Jr. and Vanessa Ferlito. The fact that Ms. Ferlito spends a good deal of the film topless was not lost upon this reviewer. Leguizamo's direction, in comparison, seemed slightly lacking and uneven. The film generally felt somewhat flat and lifeless -- even the boxing scenes seemed unconvincing. What we are left with is an earnestly acted but unfortunately weak and predictable film that, in the end, treads no new ground or provides any genuine insight or truly developed characters. Disappointing.

The DVD

Video:

Undefeatedis presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing hipness. This is a smart looking transfer. Image detail is sharp and well-defined. Colors are rich and sufficiently deep and varied, with excellent blacks and spot-on contrasts. There's a slight lack of shadow delineation that make some of the darker scenes seem a little weaker in comparison. The transfer is reasonably clean, with nary any print wear, noise, or compression artifacts to be found. I noticed some edge-enhancement but nothing overly detrimental.

Audio:

The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks. There are optional French and Spanish language tracks as well. The 5.1 track isn't too expansive but serves the production moderately well. Fronts provided some nice separation, and surrounds effectively opened the soundstage well to provide reasonable background, crowd, and ambient noise. My only complaint would lie in the slight underpowering of the center channel. Dialog seems a little on the low-end and sometimes comes across as unintelligible. This was rectified by eschewing the 5.1 track entirely and listen to the 2.0, which seemed more balanced and natural-sounding. It's not as sonically engaging as the 5.1, but it's the superior of the two.

Extras:

Director John Leguizamo provides a feature-length audio commentary, and is an engaging and enthusiastic speaker throughout. He obviously poured a lot of heart into the film, and affably speaks at length about the history of the production, the cast, and his approach to bring the story to screen. Also included is a Spanish-language interview with John Leguizamo. Running just over three minutes, the interview makes for a nice addition but provides only some basic background information about the film. Barely more substantial is a behind-the-scenes featurette that is your basic EPK piece. Most of the information contained in both the featurette and the interview are contained in the commentary, so those looking for deeper insights should stick with that track. Rounding out the supplements is a promo trailer for other HBO films.

Final Thoughts

Undefeated is a disappointing film. I was hoping for a film that wouldn't devolve into many of the same stock situations in both boxing films and "local boy from small town/ghetto/underprivileged family makes good but completely forgets his roots" movies. For his next project, I hope John Leguizamo picks something with a stronger script and more clearly delineated characters. Still, while the movie is a bust the DVD looks fairly good and comes with some decent supplements. Fans of the movie might want to give this disc a whirl, but otherwise you can give this disc a pass.

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