You don't necessarily go into a mixed martial arts film expecting much in the way of plot or story or character development, right? You go in expecting hard hitting ass kickings and plenty of semi realistic violence. That said, it might help things if there were a story, or if there was good acting. It certainly couldn't hurt things any. Sad then that Michael Gunther's Beatdown, a star vehicle from Rudy Youngblood, is little more than a string of admittedly decent fight scenes strung together by a flimsy plot and hokey performances, because there are moments where you definitely get the impression everyone was trying.
The story revolves around a tough young street fighter named Brandon (the aforementioned Rudy Youngblood, probably best known for Apocalypto) whose brother is brutally murdered. He sets out to find out why and it really doesn't take him too long at all - his brother was in pretty deep with very nasty gangsters for a whole lot of money. He couldn't pay up, and now he's dead. Rudy, of course, soon finds himself on their bad side and before you know it these hoods have put a hit out on him. Not sure where else to go, he returns to the small southern town where he grew up to talk to his father (Danny Trejo), hoping things will blow over. While he's getting acquainted with life in the small town, he uncovers and underground mixed martial arts fight club. Here he hooks up with a trainer named Drake Colby (Michael Bisping) and together they figure out a way to make some serious money while Brandon hopes to eventually get his revenge. He also makes time with local hottie, Erin Dean (Susie Abromeit of Sex Drive and I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell).
Gunther's background is as a stunt coordinator and it shows in this film. He's been lucky enough to ply his trade on some pretty big name Hollywood pictures over the years and that experience is very evident in this low budget film, particularly when the fight scenes occur. They hit hard and have a realism to them that helps the picture quite a bit. Credit has to go to fight choreographers Don Lee and Marcus Young for putting these sequences together. Aside from Michael Bisping, the film also features appearances from Heath Herring, Michael Swick, and Bobby Lashley, so the fight scenes have got a pretty good authenticity to them that probably will appeal to the MMA die hards that are out there. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save the picture.
As far as the acting goes, Youngblood isn't bad in the lead but he doesn't quite have the charisma to carry the film. He's obviously physically capable of handling the fight scenes and the stunts but he stalls when it comes time to handle the more dramatic aspects of the film. His quieter scenes with the fetching Abromeit don't quite have the resonance they need to for us to completely believe them and his interactions with the gruff Trejo as his father, which should have been highlights of the film, instead feel just a bit off. Trejo's good in his part, we can buy him as the tough old man who helped shape Brandon into the young man he is in this film, but the interactions required to solidify his on screen relationship with his cinematic son are one dimensional. On top of that, the story just isn't interesting enough to really help cover up some of the acting problems. The violence that occurs throughout the film is a welcome distraction and it does provide some excitement, but it's not enough to hide the fact that the script has pacing problems and deals very often in clichés.The DVD
Beatdown meanders its way onto Blu-ray in a decidedly unremarkable 1.85.1 AVC encoded 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer. Occasional ringing is easy to spot and the digitally shot production often looks a 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. You'll notice a fair bit of detail in facial close ups - Trejo looks remarkably haggard up close, as he should - but a lot of times texture seems fairly flat and unremarkable. Color reproduction is about average, but darker scenes show some compression artifacts and video noise. Skin tones look good for the most part, even if they do run hot (see the above comment about filtering) but there's really nothing here to write home about.Sound:
The best audio track on this disc is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix with optional subtitles provided in English and English SDH only. This really isn't all that more exciting than your basic stereo track. It's very front heavy and rear channels are only noticeable a few times throughout the movie. Bass response is limp and except in the MMA scenes - here the track does come to life a bit and offer more punch and more power. The track is well balanced and the dialogue is generally easy to understand but this is really just a pretty middle of the road effort. An alternate Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is includedExtras:
First up, as far as the extras go, is a commentary with the cast and crew of the film. Here you'll find input from Michael Gunther, actress Susie Abromeit, a guy identified only as 'Dave' (who is possibly editor Dave Macomber?), and leading man Rudy Youngblood. While the participants are obviously enjoying themselves, they don't really offer up a whole lot of information here. They mention things like 'it was really cold when we shot this' and 'it took a long time to make these opening titles' and tidbits like that, which just really aren't all that enthralling. Things get more interesting when they discuss the fight scenes, but between those bits this track is really very little more than just some very basic chit chat. Gunther does admit that the film was shot in eleven days, which explains some of its problems at least, and he cops to doing some script revisions on the film but doesn't offer a whole lot of detail as to why, only that 'sometimes you need to make things better.'
From there we move on to the featurettes, starting with some Behind The Scenes Interviews (7:11) that mixes up fly-on-the-wall footage shot on the set during the production and some standard talking head interview clips, most of which involve Rudy Youngblood talking about the people he worked with on the film. Trejo shows up and talks about his character, as do a few other participants such as Eric Balfour and Michael Gunther, but this feels more like a glorified promo spot than anything else. Up next is Six Days On Set With Michael Bisping (7:11), which features a look at different acting exercises and techniques Bisping used as well as his travel schedule and what it was like dealing with the logistics of being on the set for the period of time he was involved. Choreographing The Beatdowns (3:29) is an all too brief look at how the fight scenes in the movie were put together with input from director Gunther and a few of the combatants used in the film. Some of the footage here looks awfully similar to some of the footage used in the other featurettes and this doesn't go nearly as in-depth as it could and should have. Beatdown Contest Winner (0:54) is quick interview with a guy who won the chance to appear in the movie, while the TapOut Promos (1:57) section is essentially an advertisement for a few of their MMA related videos and products.
Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature and previews for other Lionsgate Blu-ray action film releases, some menus, and chapter selection. Only the Lionsgate promos are in HD.
Beatdown just isn't a very good movie no matter how hard it tries to be - and to the credit of all involved, there are moments where they really are quite obviously trying. The mixed martial arts action scenes are decent enough but there isn't enough in the way of storytelling or acting to hold those scenes together. Lionsgate's Blu-ray doesn't look or sound all that remarkable and while on paper the disc might look to be staked with extras, most of the supplements are fluff. Hardcore MMA fans might want to rent it but unless you fall into that category, you can safely skip this one.