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Sort of a cinematic "coming out party" for Belgian stuntman/kickboxer Dominique Vandenberg, Pit Fighter is exactly the sort of movie that Jean-Claude Van Damme toiled in before (kind of) hitting the big time with flicks like Double Impact and Universal Soldier. (Namely, movies like Bloodsport and No Retreat, No Surrender.)
The plot is like the recipe for boiled water: An muscular lug with no memory finds that he has a stunning talent for kickboxing. And since "Jack" is presently living in a nameless little flyspeck of a South American country that's just full of people who love kickboxing, you know what you're getting into. Oh sure there's some sort of amorphous back-story about how our ass-kicking hero was found near-death with an amnesia-inducing bullet in his head -- and is now haunted by visions of a mystery woman who clearly enjoys kickboxing as much as everyone else does.
Meanwhile Jack is climbing the ranks of the local kickboxing circuit, although this is a kickboxing circuit that consists of one dingy garage and the same 27 spectators ... but either way Jack is kicking a whole lot of ass. The only guy Jack has on his side is an ambitious trainer named Manolo (Steven Bauer), but he's not much help one way or the other.
One of Jack's Golden Rules of Kickboxing is always let the opponent beat you up just a little bit. Allegedly the reason for this approach is to allow your opponent to end the fight with just a little bit of honor. OK, nice touch, but how does that explain the way Jack lovingly breaks one fighter's arm right in half or the way he smiles approvingly when he manages to forcibly remove one opponent's eyeball from its socket? (Ew.)
So there's only the slightest remnant of actual plot, and the action scenes are pretty brutal. But what about the screenplay? I've transcribed my very favorite passage from the film right here. See what you think:
"I know your face. I know it well ... 'cause when the fists were flying, or even the bullets ... I've stood back-to-back with you. I've been soaked to the skin with rain, sweat and blood. I've smelled death on a spring afternoon. I've defeated the hands of an enemy that doesn't know Christ. Yours is a face with only one side. So help me, Jack ... that I might be struck down where I stand if I lie ... but I would die for you, my brother."
Yeah, exactly. (And this speech comes from a side-character who appears out of nowhere without an introduction, and then vanishes from the plot completely. Weird.) So let's just continue to focus on the visual side of Pit Fighter and never mention the dialogue again. Director Jesse Johnson clearly has a thing for the "flashback storytelling technique" during the quiet moments, and he chooses to employ the "slo-mo linger" on most of the kickboxing sequences. Whether or not these techniques help to make Pit Fighter a better movie is debatable .. but they sure do manage to make it longer. And this is a movie that runs barely 85 minutes.
(I was going to dedicate a paragraph to the career of Cuban actor Steven Bauer, a guy who (once upon a time) delivered some fantastic work in Brian De Palma's Scarface -- but since the guy's spent the last 20-some years toiling in some of the lamest Z-grade video fodder ever conceived, I doubt he'd actually appreciate the special attention.)
The first two acts of Pit Fighter chug along in a strict pattern of plot / flashback / kickbox, but when Jack's mystery woman shows up at a crucial match -- things go from simply violent to plain old loopy. What was previously a sports-style kick-fest instantly morphs into a machine-gun parade that would have John Rambo drooling in envy. And you simply have not lived until you've seen the high-end hilarity that occurs within the last seven minutes of Pit Fighter -- as Jack dispatches at least 75 men, all of whom have automatic weapons and all of whom must be legally blind.
Video: Choose between a Full Frame transfer on side A or a Widescreen (1.78:1) Anamorphic presentation on side B. The picture quality's not nearly as weak as you might expect from a movie of this sort. Most of the visual shortcomings can be attributed to the director's rather shoddy (OK, let's say scattershot) visual style, but the transfer looks as good as can be expected.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, which, frankly, is probably a little flashier than the flick deserves. But rest assured you'll be able to hear all the throat kicks and punctured lungs in glorious 5.1 fashion. Optional subtitles are available in English & Spanish.
OK, one last passage of dialogue before we go. This stuff's just too great to ignore: "What more triumphant end can there be ... than to be raked by the fiery rash of a hundred marksmen's cartridges? Blistered where I stand like bleeding shredded hamburger..."
Somebody pinch me.
But poking fun at a movie like Pit Fighter is just too easy. I will say that if you're a big fan of the most mindless sorts of action movies under the sun, you just might have a half-decent time with this one. But don't come crying to me saying I called it a good movie.