Maybe we should blame Fight Club. Or the pathetic state of true "professional" boxing. Whatever the reason, post-modern pugilism - otherwise known as Ultimate Fighting or Mixed Martial Arts - has swept through contemporary sports culture, rendering almost all Rockys - Marciano to Balboa - irrelevant. The intense level of violence and brutality merged with a far less structured approach to the sweet science has turned an entire generation onto such furious flashy fisticuffs. While not necessarily a prime example of the format, the Undisputed movies have carved a commercial niche out of the whole nu-school beatdown ideal. The first film offered up Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames and Michael Rooker. Part 2 saw Michael Jai White and Ben Cross take up the square circle cause. Now, some eight years after the last installment, Part 3 follows ancillary prisoner character Uri Boyka as he enters a secret underground boxing tournament in order to gain his freedom. While the acting is particularly amateurish and the story rote, there is no deny the high definition pleasures of watching beefy stuntmen smack the snot out of each other - over and over again.
After suffering a devastating knee injury as a result of a clash at the end of Part 2, intimidating inmate Uri Boyka is a shadow of his former self. He spends his days cleaning toilets and his night dreaming of a life on the outside. Still, he manages to rehab enough to win his own Behind the Iron Curtain prison tourney. This gets the attention of an elite underground competition among various penal institutions that pits convicts from all over the world against each other. The prize? Why, freedom, naturally. With all hope of any parole dwindling and nothing really to lose, Boyka agrees to compete. Almost immediately, he discovers that it will be a hellacious, bloody brawl to the top. Even worse, we soon learn that the contest is rigged, and that losing means more than simply being 'tapped' out. Still, Boyka wants out, and will do anything - including befriending an American competitor - to earn the 'redemption' of the 'undisputed' 'last man standing'.
Movies like Undisputed III are a dime a direct to DVD dozen. They offer unknown quantities both before and behind the camera trying to make a name for themselves within wildly formulaic genre conceits. They provide superficial (or sometimes, nonexistent) character development, plotting that's been picked over a million times, simplistic dialogue, and a shoestring premise that allows its main reason for being - in this case, sweaty man-on-man MMA action - to take center stage. With that in mind, it's no surprise then that Undisputed III has its issues. While he may be a prime side of cinematic beef, star Scott Adkins (himself a noted fighter) is only good at three things - being pissed off, punching, and perspiring. Ask him to feel a real emotion or offer a sound sense memory and you'll be waiting a good decade or two. Still, for b-movie action ace Isaac Florentine (responsible for directing Navy Seals II, Special Forces, and Undisputed II), he meets the requisite stand and sweat stand-off protocol. Together, the duo deliver on the promise of bareknuckles bravado and plenty of it. Toss in some inventive fight choreography and you've got a guilty pleasure struggling for a sense of mainstream acceptability.
Granted, you have to suffer through a lot of initial inertia to get the good stuff. In fact, the first fifteen minutes of this movie feel like an unnecessary recap for already invested members of the audience. While the newcomer to this material is trying to catch up, original Undisputed mavens will be milling about and ordering up some movie snacks. Once the fighting begins, Florentine and his cast find their gratuitous groove and hardly let up. Sure, Adkins has to stop every once in a while to remind us of the stakes, and his friendship with someone called Turbo feels tacked on. But as long as we have roid raging muscle bombs blowing up at each other, their confronts captured with rather inventive camera work, we really don't care. Like a trip to the coliseum circa the last days of Rome, Undisputed III wants to feed our innate human bloodlust while dragging the boxing movie round house kicking and screaming into the far more violent world of New Age anger.
It's a careful balancing act between kitsch and crap, one that Florentine manages well. He stages the situations with ease, making the action flow and easy to follow. There is a very manipulative, preplanned strategy to his designs. One moment, characters are talking. The next, they are bleeding out of their orifices. Someone trains. Someone's jaw bends and then breaks. There is no depth, no desire to explore the background for this unrealistic realm of viciousness. Prison life is supposed to pass for a motive and well toned pecs for personality. As with any "sport" taken down to its bare bones minimum, there is little refinement here. Individuals use their hamsteak mitts to meter out brain damaging amounts of injustice, and we sit back like sugar-dependent stooges lapping up all the swarthy strongman sweetness. As pandering to a particular demographic, one already desensitized to the internal organ mangling mannerisms of mixed martial arts, Undisputed III will be another heaping helping of hurt. Others might appreciate its no hold barred balls to the wall way with a fight. Keep your expectations - and your right hand - low, and you'll be just fine.
In his review of the Blu-ray release, DVD Talks own Adam Tyner complimented the quality of this low budget release, and this critic must concur with his opinion. When you consider the 'where' and 'how' of its making, and the mediocre look to some big budget high def releases, the 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer here is just terrific. It practically pops off the flat screen. Of course, the use of RedOne technology helps greatly, allowing for deeper detail and a level of color almost uncompromising in its grit and slick skin tone realism. You can practically feel the sweat flying off these faces as they are hit, and the intricacies of the make-up work reveal some very defined (and disturbing) injuries. While not quite 100% "cinematic", this is one good looking blu-ray release.
Nothing reminds the viewer of what they are watching more than the hyperbolic "SMACK" of a fake movie fight punch, and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless mix manages to capture such a skull-crushing 'clang' with channel challenging ease. The fighting is directional and immersive, the sound of the crowd careening behind and around the main meat packing at the center. Even in the quieter moments, in the exterior scenes and pre-fight froth ups, the soundtrack succeeds. We feel the sense of space, note the attention to environment and individual ambience. The dialogue is easy to understand and the power and impact of the action drives the speakers to satisfying distraction. Like the visuals, the sonic situation here is impressive.
Nothing, except a second disc hosting a DVD/digital copy of the film.
Like the movie musicals of the '30s and '40s and the schlock sci-fi horror of the '50s and early '60s, something like Undisputed III: Redemption is nothing more than mindless entertainment geared toward helping you forget your troubles. Of course, where the previous genre offered such escape via songs and sloppy monster F/X, the MMA movies deliver it in doses of blood, sweat, and tears. Earning an easy Recommended rating, this is nothing more than simplified cinema set up to achieve certain stock goals. No character filler. No dysfunctional family backstory. Undisputed III promises nothing more than a series of well filmed beatdowns, and delivers on every account. It might not be rocket science, but it's not Rocky either. Instead of finesse, all we get here is fighting - and that's perfectly fine.