Director and co-writer Daniel Zirilli's latest low budget action film under the Tap Out line of mixed martial arts/crime stories focuses on a well respected police officer named Danny (Tony Schiena) who is set up during an investigation. Pegged as a criminal and locked up for a crime that he didn't commit, Danny tries to play it cool inside as he's worried, and rightfully so, that some of the cons would just love to tear him up simply for being a cop in the first place. As Danny adjusts to life inside prison, he winds up getting involved in an underground cage fighting competition.
As the competition heats up and Danny becomes more involved with it, he eventually befriends a former (being incarcerated and all can end a career pretty quickly) mixed martial arts champion named Irving (Dave Fennoy). Irving helps him out and teaches him everything he needs to know, while Danny, smarter than most of the men involved in all of this, schemes his way to justice figuring if he can win his way out he'll be able to prove himself an innocent man and clear his family name. Unfortunately for Danny, the man in charge is Anton Fargas (Vinnie Jones), and he's got something to say about Danny's plans of freedom...
Locked Down starts off promisingly enough for a low budget action movie. We figure out right away that there's going to be some sex and violence here, what with the bare ass stripper shaking it for a group of guys wearing Tap Out jackets (the product placement in this movie is, quite frankly, obnoxious at times) which soon segues into a shoot out inside an industrial building when a cop sting goes wrong. This sets the stage for what's to come - brawling, periodic shooting and lots of tough talk and poser dialogue. The emphasis very early on is obviously on attitude and action rather than on acting or on storytelling, and in the context of the low budget action movie world, that's maybe not such a bad thing. If nothing else, it'll meet audience expectations.
Director Zirilli does a decent job with the pacing, though the movie is about fifteen minutes too long. We don't waste too much time with the set up, he gives us just enough to get going and before we hit the twenty minute mark we've seen two naked ladies and Danny's all locked up in the Blackwater Penitentiary, orange jumpsuit and everything. From there we start checking off items from our list of prison movie clichés as they appear, one at a time, right before our eyes. Kindly, wise cell mate? Check. Troublemaking, power hungry guard with a penchant for unnecessary violence? Check. Fight in a cafeteria? Check. A scene where our hero talks to someone from the outside world through one of those glass wall phone to phone contraptions? Check. Gratuitous sex scene inside the prison walls? Blow jobs count, so check. What about a big, bad prisoner who pulls all the strings? Of course, who do you think Vinnie Jones is going to play? Oh, and you can check off the poorly thought out escape plan line on that list as well, because there's one of those here too. I could go on, but you get the idea. There's very little of any originality here, the movie plays out like a by the numbers prison film with a few mixed martial arts sequences thrown in to capitalize on the Tap Out brand.
So yeah, the story here isn't going to set the world on fire. In fact, there's not much at all about this movie that's going to set the world on fire, but it does what it does well. There are some good fights here, a few brutal and bloody bouts to get that primal bloodlust flowing and more often than not the choreography is good. The cinematography is fine too, as is the score and the overall production values. The acting? Well, it's sufficient. Not great, but sufficient, and while Jones is featured front and center on the cover, his is more of a supporting role than anything else but the movie is better for having him in it and he's having fun with the part. Tony Schiena's a decent leading man, if a bit wooden in spots, but he does fine considering the expectations that the material sets for him.
This isn't necessarily a 'thinking man's' movie but it's lean, more often than not efficient, and violent enough to entertain. It won't change your life and it won't rank up there with your favorites, but it's not a bad way to kill an hour and forty minutes if you're into the MMA style of fighting and don't mind being bombarded with a long list of prison movie clichés.
Locked Down brawls its way onto Blu-ray in a fairly average looking 2.35.1 AVC encoded 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer. Occasional ringing is easy to spot and the digitally shot production sometimes does looks bit harsh in terms of its black levels which frequently fluctuate between fairly strong and fairly murky - the image is also rather soft in spots but it looks like sometimes this is on purpose as parts of the movie are heavily filtered (a lot of these Tap Out movies tend to have that going on for some reason). You'll notice a fair bit of detail in facial close ups - Vinnie Jones looks nice and craggy, as he should - but a lot of times texture are simply average. Color reproduction is about where it should be, but darker scenes do show some mild compression artifacts. Skin tones look good for the most part and the transfer, if not remarkable, is at least sufficient.
The best audio track on this disc is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix with optional subtitles provided in English SDH only. This really isn't all that more exciting than your basic stereo track outside of the fight scenes, which do demonstrate some good surround activity. For the most part though, it tends to be very front heavy and outside of those fight scenes the rear channels are only noticeable a few times throughout the movie. Bass response is decent, but could have had a bit more punch and more power. The track is well balanced and the dialogue is generally easy to understand but despite some impressive moments, this track probably could have been a bit more involved than it is. An alternate Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is included.
The most substantial extra on this disc is a director's commentary with Daniel Zirilli, who also co-wrote the film. Here he talks about script revisions and story changes, some of the ideas that were axed from the final version of the movie, and casting the film. He expresses his admiration for the cast and crew that he worked with on the picture and talks about complications involved in staging and shooting some of the mixed martial arts sequences that stand out in the picture. Actor Tony Schiena joins in on this track as well and talks about what it was like working on the picture in front of, rather than behind, the camera, but Zirilli tends to have more to say. This track won't change your opinion of the picture at all but if you enjoyed it and want to learn more about it, this is probably the best way to make that happen as it is a reasonably informative discussion.
From there, check out the first of three featurettes, a Behind The Scenes (4:17) segment that shows us what it was like on set, who did what, and how they did it. At under five minutes, it's pretty brief and padded with more clips than it needs to be but if nothing else it provides a look inside the ring. The disc also contains a collection of Interviews With The Cast And Crew (17:01) which let those involved in the production elaborate on their specific roles. Appearing here are Kimbo Slice, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Vinnie Jones, Daniel Zirilli, and Tony Schiena. The third featurette is the more interesting of the three as it covers the Fight Choreography On The Set Of Locked Down (2:00) but at two minutes, it's brief and much shorter than it could have been given the amount of fighting there is in the film to cover.
Rounding out the extra features are some Tap Out Promo spots, a collection of trailers (which you are forced to skim through in order to get to the main menu, which is slightly obnoxious) for other Lionsgate properties, animated menus and chapter stops. All of the extras are in standard definition.
Locked Down is a moderately entertaining movie. Fans of mixed martial arts will obviously appreciate it more than others, as that tends to be the focus here, but action fans in general should at least be mildly amused. Lionsgate's Blu-ray looks and sounds okay and contains a few decent extras, making this a fine rental if you're in the mood for mindless brawling and a simple if efficient plot.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.