This 2011 straight to video action film begins when David Lord (Kellan Lutz) loses his wife in a nasty car accident. This understandably hits him pretty hard and he quickly falls inside a bottle for comfort. When he gets into a bar fight one night and thinks afterwards that he's going to get lucky with a lady (Katia Winter) who has been eyeing him, he winds up the victim of a kidnapping and awakes to find himself being forced to fight in a gladiatorial style underground fight club called 'The Death Games.' He and other unlucky opponents are given no choice but to fight one another to the death (and in front of different green screens that give each battle a theme of sorts) under the watchful eye of the man in charge, Logan (Samuel L. Jackson), who is reaping the profits of broadcasting these matches over the internet.
Though David initially resists, it soon becomes obvious that if he does he's going to be killed, at which point, with no other choice, he lets himself go in his new found profession and soon turns out to be quite the killing machine - but there's more to this than simple bloodlust.
Yes, there is more to this than bloodlust, but you won't realize it until the movie is about ninety percent over and by that point it's tough to care too much about what's happened to David. His transformation from grieving barfly to powerhouse warhorse of death is rapid and nonsensical and his performance surprisingly bland given the amount of carnage on display here. He's got the looks and the moves and on the surface is a respectable choice to play the lead but he doesn't bring much in the way of screen presence to the role and he winds up not leaving much of an impression at all, really. He does stare at people a lot though and he gets the whole 'stand there and look angry' thing down perfectly well. He's also apparently pretty good at screaming. The same, amazingly enough, can be said of Jackson who is actually in the movie enough to have had the ability to make a difference. Yes, he stomps around and yells a lot as he is apt to do but he doesn't offer up much for us to latch on to here, he's simply the bad guy doing the bad things as loudly as he can. At least Katia Winter gets naked.
Given that the movie has as much sex and violence in it as it does, you'd think it would be well poised to deliver a fun way to kill an hour and a half and if that's all you want out of the movie, it does definitely deliver on those levels. Even then, however, the film fails to really set itself apart and the fight scenes, as vicious as they can get at times, don't have a whole lot of style to them. On top of that, there's the script - or seemingly the lack thereof. There's really just not much originality in here at all and while maybe there's something to be said for keeping your straight to video action movie gory, sexy and formulaic, it would have been nice to see this one go into some unexpected places now and then and that just does not happen in this movie. Throw in some completely banal dialogue that borders on unintentionally hilarious at times and this one just doesn't ever quite find its voice or its stride and it winds up more like watching your friend try and get to the next level of his fighting game than much of a movie in the narrative sense.
The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is a strong one, showing good detail and nice color reproduction. The image is clean and free of any dirt, debris or print damage and skin tones look lifelike and natural. Black levels tend to be pretty strong and there are noticeable issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement. A little bit of shimmering can be seen here and there but otherwise, the movie looks great.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix on the disc is a good one, offering up some nice directional effects and reasonably strong bass when the movie needs it most. Levels are well balanced, there are no problems with hiss or distortion and everything comes through, clean, clear and precise. More aggressive use of the rear channels might have made things a bit more interesting in a few of the film's more action intensive moments but aside from that, there's nothing to complain about here and the movie sounds just fine.
All that's included here are menus, chapter stops, and trailers for a few unrelated Sony titles available now on DVD and probably better than Arena.
Arena has nudity and it has gore and it has Samuel L. Jackson but those three great things are not enough to let us look past the fact that, gory or not, the fight scenes aren't very good, the acting is subpar, and the script is bad. There's very little excitement here outside of a few cheap thrills that the splatter provides - it's simply not enough to compensate for what is basically a big screen version of watching two teenagers play Mortal Kombat in your living room. Skip it.
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.