Direct-to-DVD action movies are like porn. Nobody’s watching for the clever dialogue or nuanced characters. They want the money shots: well-staged, well-performed fight sequences. If they deliver in that department, everything else is gravy.
“Undisputed III: Redemption” has a lot of gravy. Rich, manly gravy.
Literally, the only women who appear in this film are the ones tattooed on the chests of the actors. These guys are tough. How tough? So tough they make their own Bengay out of wildflowers they pick while out on chain gang duty. That’s right: these guys are so manly they make picking wildflowers butch.
These manly dudes are prisoners from around the world, assembled at Gorgon Maximum Security Penitentiary in the Republic of Georgia for an elimination martial arts tournament squarely in the tradition of great Fight-To-The-Death Movies. Since each of the combatants have their own unique fighting style — capoeira, kickboxing, boxing, and so on — it’s sort of like the adaptation of “Street Fighter” that fans of the video game never got.
Wait, you’re telling me there was a “Street Fighter” movie in the mid-1990s? No, there wasn’t. It never happened. It. NEVER. Happened.
“Undisputed III: Redemption” (2010)
Directed by Isaac Florentine
Tagline: “One deadly tournament. A last fight for freedom.”
Tweetable Plot Synopsis: The villain of “Undisputed II” gets his own movie where he has to beat seven deadly fighters (and one bad knee) in a prison MMA tournament.
Salable Elements: Returning “Undisputed 2” star Scott Adkins, once again playing Russian prisoner and self-proclaimed “most complete fighter in the world” Uri Boyka; the connection to the increasingly popular world of mixed martial arts; the burgeoning “Undisputed” brand, with its promise of testosterone-y prison fight movies.
Biggest Success: The indisputably entertaining fight sequences, particularly any of the ones that feature Adkins and the film’s main heavy, Columbian juicer “Dolor” (Marko Zaror). “Undisputed III”‘s fights — directed by Isaac Florentine, shot by Ross W. Clarkson, and choreographed by Larnell Stovall — are definitely worth the price of admission, or whatever the equivalent expression would be for a rental (the film earned Best Choreography and Best Director awards at the inaugural Action Fest earlier this spring).
Adkins, in particular, glowering and speaking in a convincing (enough) Russian accent, has the onscreen intensity and athleticism to become a legitimate big screen action hero; it’s easy to imagine ranking him with Jason Statham in a few years as the premier action stars of this generation (and hot damn, it would be a lot of fun to see them in a movie together).
Biggest Failure: Though the martial arts sequences in “Undisputed III” are a lot of fun, they suffer from one big drawback, and it’s something that’s infected a lot of action movies of the last decade: way too much use of slow-motion footage. Certainly, slo-mo has its place in fight scenes — it can help you savor the pure visual poetry of the bodies in motion onscreen — but it also takes away from your ability to appreciate the athleticism on display in its raw form.
The nice part about DTV action movies is that they’re not burdened by movie stars who need stunt doubles who need to be shot carefully to maintain the illusion that Movie Star X can actually accomplish Movie Stunt Y. “Undisputed III” is anchored by guys like Adkins and Zaror, who don’t need any post-production help to pull off their impressive moves.
So why not let their fights run without post-production help? Adkins and Zaror don’t need slo-mo and speed ramps to make their scenes work, but here they are anyway. Action films like “Undisputed III” that star true athletes work best with a vérité approach: documenting the remarkable feats of their stars. Their physical abilities are all the special effects anyone could ever need.
Best Moment: A theme of improvisation and adaptation runs throughout the film; appropriately so, for a movie made as cheaply and quickly as “Undisputed III” almost certainly was. I was particularly fond of how that idea made its way into Boyka’s training regimens. At the beginning of the film, he’s still recovering from a knee injury suffered in “Undisputed II.” To get back into fighting shape, he puts himself on the “Rocky IV” training plan: strengthening his leg with homemade gym equipment made of wood, rope, and archaic farm implements.
Later, Boyka and his American counterpart Turbo (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) are forced to endure brutal sessions on a chain gang, so the two turn the backbreaking labor into a backbreaking workout (throwing rocks, for example, is a great way to build explosiveness in your arms and back). Apparently, modified slave labor is the way people in Russia like to exercise.
Special Features: Other than a digital copy that you can copy to your iPod on the Blu-ray edition, none whatsoever. There isn’t even a trailer. There isn’t even a scene selection page! It’s a disc fit for the cruel deprivation of the Russian prison system.
Worthy of a Theatrical Release: Not quite — the production values outside the ring are fairly low, and some of the acting from the supporting cast is pretty brutal — but a lot of the participants, particularly Florentine and Adkins, deserve a bigger budget, a better script and a chance to make the leap to the silver screen. In the meantime, they should be proud of what they accomplished with “Undisputed III”: some damn fine action porn.
For Further Viewing: Watch Adkins train for his role as Weapon XI (a.k.a. Deadpool after he got his mouth sewn shut) in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” If Reynolds is too busy making Sandra Bullock movies to man the Deadpool spinoff, they should give Adkins the part. Just let him speak this time.