â†µAlthough, when you get right down to it Redbelt only nominally qualifies as an “MMA” movie. Yes, mixed martial arts plays a central role in the plot of the film, but that’s about where it ends. Given the way the sport is portrayed in the film and the way the fight sequences are framed, one can’t help but come away with the strong suspicion that David Mamet has never watched a mixed martial arts event in his life. â†µâ†µ
â†µWhat he has watched, clearly, are a lot of martial arts movies. That’s essentially what you have here, an old-time kung fu film translated into a modern American context. All the standard plot elements are in place – the devoted, peaceful master who refuses to fight for the sake of glory or competition, the corrupt gangsters who seek to use and abuse him, the concatenation of disasters and betrayals that lead him to fight in the end against his will. Essentially meaningless combat platitudes get tossed around on a scene-by-scene basis – “Everything has a force… embrace it or deflect it, but why oppose it?” “ Conquer your fear and you will conquer your opponent.” “You knew the escape but you got tired… the lesson is, let the other guy get tired.” â†µâ†µ
â†µ â†µBasically, if you’re a kung-fu movie fan, you’re in very comfortable territory here, and Chiwetel Ejiofor does an admirable job of playing the Bruce Lee/Sonny Chiba leading role. He says his ridiculous lines with aplomb and generally gives off the requisite air of controlled rage, righteousness and disbelief throughout the course of the film’s preposterous plotline (in the space of about five minutes of movie-time, a rape-victim shoots out the window of Chiwetel’s academy while trying to kill a cop and then Chiwetel saves a major movie star, played by Tim Allen of all people, from a knife-fight in a bar – in another five minutes Chiwetel is a movie producer). â†µâ†µ
â†µThe problem with the film isn’t the acting, which is decent (and includes cameos from Boom Boom Mancini and Randy Couture), or the script, which is horrible and seems like it was probably unfinished when they started shooting. Any kung fu movie fan will tell you that even in the best efforts the scripts are weak and very rarely make sense. Martial arts movies are fight porn – the story is just the filler between the money shots. And that’s what really blows about Redbelt - there’s hardly any actual fighting going on, and what fight sequences there are completely suck. They have nothing to do with actual jiu-jitsu or Muay-Thai boxing or judo or any of the other disciplines that real MMA fighters are trained in. They’re just very generic movie fights lacking in any direction or visual style. I can’t think of a better way to damn this movie than to tell you that it is my sincere belief that there were better fights in Lethal Weapon. â†µâ†µ
â†µNow, presumably, David Mamet, in that he’s David Mamet, thought he was making a martial arts movie that was so heavy and philosophical that it didn’t need much in the way of actual martial arts. Which makes Redbelt just the latest entry in the never-ending highbrow-goes-lowbrow sweepstakes, a culture clash that all too often results in a bunch of pretentious claptrap and precious little bang for your buck. â†µâ†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.