Undisputed Movie Review

The last of his breed of filmmakers, Walter Hill is a prolific, old-school screenwriter/director who's worked in everything: sci-fi, westerns, musicals, noir thrillers, comedies, and action. Over the last couple decades, Hill has produced a plethora of notable gems such as Streets of Fire, 48 Hours, The Warriors, and Southern Comfort. His latest flick - Undisputed - falls smack dab in the middle of cinematic quality: A straightforward tale of two lone, boxing warriors going head to head (and toe to toe) inside a microcosm of violence, power, and greed fueled by the almighty dollar.

Ten years ago, rising boxing superstar Monroe Hutchen (Wesley Snipes) was sent up for life imprisonment due to a fit of passionate and murderous rage. He's serving time in Sweetwater Prison in the Mojave Desert and continues to box in the Inter-Prison Boxing Program with a flawless record and the title of undisputed champion. To prove that he could have amounted to something outside the prison walls, Hutchen unexpectedly gets his chance to fight the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion, George "Iceman" Chambers (Ving Rhames), an arrogant megalomaniac who has recently been sent up for six to eight years for a charge of rape. Hmm, who does that sounds like?

When the tension between the two fighters reaches a critical mass, the prison Mob boss and avid boxing fan Mendy Ripstein (Peter Falk, looking like the floor of a New York taxi around 2 a.m.) sees a grand opportunity. He uses his connections to grease the wheels and promote one last big fight between the Heavyweight champ and an unbeaten prospect. Only this time, the fight runs under Mendy's London Prize Ring rules: lighter gloves, no referee, and a fight to a finish. The tale of tape: One man fighting for his honor and one man fighting for the right to own three Mercedes-Benzes within a Thunderdome-style barbed-wire arena, with Master P leading the prisoners into a grizzly rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Undisputed is littered with a ton of characters actors such as Fisher Stevens (Hackers), Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), Jon Seda, and Wes Studi (Geronimo) and a knockout performance (pun intended) by Ving Rhames strutting and beating down everything and everyone in his way. Ironically, the weakest character lies with the film's strongest actor, Wesley Snipes, who sleepwalks his way through his role of the reclusive Monroe and spends most of his time building toothpick effigies while perfecting his Clint Eastwood impression.

Walter Hill builds the film like a pulp comic book with goofy title cards detailing each prisoner's crime and sentence and a distracting calendar system to track the days until the big fight between Monroe and Chambers. The film starts out as promising but soon becomes diluted with stagnant character developments and motivation. Each transition from scene to scene uses a jarring "white wipe" effect and the heavy rap soundtrack serves as a distraction to the real action on the screen.

The big scene is of course the fight between Monroe and Chambers, which vibrates with the energy and intensity of a jackhammer on a tin shack. Hill switches back and forth from inside the ring to the observer's point of view, providing several levels of entertainment. For a boxing fan, this sequence almost makes the film worth sitting through.

But in the end, Undisputed is just a genre film, reminiscent of those wrestling films that Barton Fink would have been forced to write for Mr. Lipnick. It isn't Raging Bull, but at least it could give Play it to the Bone a knockout in five.

The DVD features two short interviews with the two stars, and little else. Easily a pass.

Don't drop the soap! (You'll butt heads picking it up.)


Comments

Undisputed Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2002

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