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Arena

October 22, 2011

By John Leavengood

MY CALL:  It’s not so bad that’s it’s good—and it’s clearly not good, yet not bad.  Far from great yet quite entertaining, this death match, modern gladiatorial fight flick does the trick for a rainy evening when nothing’s on TV and Netflix isn’t turning you on.  IF YOU LIKE THIS, WATCH:  The Condemned, Spartacus: Blood and Sand and 300 all offer the best elements of this movie, but deliver them with excellence, compelling stories and solid acting.  TRAILER:  click here, and please ignore the low video quality.  The movie is fine.  I stumbled across this trailer when I saw Michael Jai White’s Never Back Down 2.

In a wardrobe that smacks of a Shaft-y pimp, Samuel L. Jackson holds meetings in his Pharaoh-chic throne room office and produces an online death show from what looks like an evil star ship Enterprise flight deck.  What’s his show like?  It’s a live, online death match.  The viewership includes  bored office drones and college kids who laugh and make bets as people beat each other into Sloppy Joe filling.  Then, after the fight is over, the viewers vote on whether the loser lives or dies at the executing hand of the victor.  This is not original by any means, but that doesn’t mean movies like this can’t still be fun.

Like a modern day Gladiator our star is kidnapped and enslaved.  To “break him” he is regularly waterboarded, electrocuted, or suppressed by blaring noise.  He has no choice but to fight, but to do so well could mean a glorious death—so says his leather-bound captor.  Still hesitant to fight, he receives an incentive: win ten fights, win your freedom.  He is renamed Death Dealer, which I hope is a polite nod to Frank Frazetta’s fantasy art, and he starts to get into it a bit.

The fights are pretty decent, mix the kumite death match-style movie with medieval to improvised construction site weapons, deliver some solid brutality and gore, and most importantly they are very fun to watch.  In the opening fight, the filmmakers employed a harsh light/shadow contrast creating a somewhat Spartacus: Blood and Sand feel with a touch of 300.  The combat takes place in a greenscreen room which the producers alter frequently, not unlike the backdrops in video games like Street Fighter and Soul Caliber or the movie King of Fighters, which change from fight to fight.

Production quality is good.  Our lead actor does fine for a straight-to-DVD death match movie.  During between-battle scenes his wounds are treated and it’s like a healing version of Hostel.  He accumulates a lot of scars.  Some of the fighters’ outfits are a bit funny.  Oh, and a naked chick shoots a guy with a stun gun.  That’s worth a star by itself.

Normally a fight without thoughtful combat choreography is ruined before it starts.  This movie is among few which fall into that category, yet still I enjoyed it.  Don’t rush off to buy this, but it’s worth a RedBox-remedied Sunday afternoon or a fun-filled Bad Movie Tuesday.

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