Monday, August 16, 2010

Undisputed Series

Undisputed (2002) * * *

Cast: Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Peter Falk, Wes Studi, Michael Rooker,Jon Seda, Fisher Stevens

Directed by Walter Hill

A Mike Tyson-like champion goes to prison for rape accusations to which he then battles current prison circuit champion Monroe (Snipes) in a boxing match to determine who is the best, while an elderly mobster (Falk in a great performance) puts it all together and faces off against a warden who doesn’t want the final match to take place. Undisputed was what I thought an undiscovered gem, thankfully though due to the sequels (which are enjoyable) Undisputed has gained a following. Also being directed by Walter Hill, this boxing drama which one feared would be a rip off of Penitentiary, actually turns into a suspenseful boxing drama with great action sequences and characters that actually are well defined. Indeed what it all comes down to is the atmosphere of the prison and Hill makes the prison feel real and closed off. The performances from the cast are all first rate, especially Falk who’s screen presence and charisma works to keep the dramatic scenes from getting routine, Snipes is adequate and predictably passive but Rhames gives a great performance as the villain and is suitably menacing. The story moves at a satisfying clip and overall Undisputed is worth its weight as an enjoyable prison movie and even more enjoyable as a fight flick. Sadly Walter Hill hasn’t done much since although thankfully a project is deemed for release in 2011 with him and Pierce Brosnan, let’s keep our fingers crossed, as Walter Hill is a heavy weight talent in this genre and he knows his action. Undisputed is one of Hill’s best recent efforts as it represents a vast improvement over the surprisingly dull Hill efforts Wild Bill and Last Man Standing, Undisputed then doesn’t quite reach The Warriors/Southern Comfort levels (Or even Streets Of Fire) but Undisputed is well worth seeing for genre fans.

Undisputed II:Last Man Standing (2006) * * *

Cast:Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, Ben Cross, Eli Danker, Ken Lerner, Mark Ivanir
Directed by Isaac Florentine

Jai White (In for Ving Rhames) returns as boxing champion Iceman framed for a bum rap involving cocaine, who  must learn the ropes in a European prison where he must learn a new style of martial arts to stand a chance against current champ Uri Boyka (Adkins) in a satisfying kung fu prison yard that works because of the excellent action and fast pace. The plot is sort of contrived and the whole premise has been done to death (basically Death Warrant meets Lionheart) but in terms of prison action this might be the best direct to DVD release ever to use such sturdy premise. There are of course some flaws, mainly involving junkie Cross who figures in a way to set up two fight sequences between White and Adkins. Another thing that doesn’t work is the whole Cool Hand Luke unity among the prisoners when White refuses to fight, a plot thread that goes nowhere as it is dropped in favor of the martial arts action (which isn’t necessarily bad thing) Undisputed II then is a movie that impresses solely for the action element, I mean the acting, production values and story are all what you would expect but due to the fast pace and the excellent fight sequences which are so spectactular that it makes up for any of the story’s shortcomings, Undisputed II then works very well for fans of kung fu flicks, who will no doubt eat this up.

Undisputed III:Redemption (2010)
* * *

Cast: Scott Adkins, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Mark Ivanir, Marko Zaror

Undisputed III is the weakest in the series but still a solid recommendation from me, the flaws are more pronounced as Adkins is such damaged goods that it strains credibility to see him spin around and do all kinds of jump kicks but aside from that the choreography is on par again and the film follows more in the Lionheart vein and such is a durable premise that seems to never get old. The story as it goes finds Uri Boyka (Adkins) damaged goods who trains again and wins a tournament to fight an international tournament despite a bum knee, meanwhile he befriends a tough black fighter (Jenkins) who are constantly thrown in the hole together. The stakes are raised higher because the loser of the fights are killed and hence the final fight means everything. Undisputed III delivers exactly what it promises and Florentine does wonders with the action element which make this head and shoulders above other dull straight to video clunkers like Unrivaled, Damage and Ring Of Death. Character development then is on the weaker side but when the action is that good, and occurs at regular intervals, the genre fan in me tends to be more forgivable. Bring on Undisputed 4….


  1. I think Isaac Florentine was the right person to take this series into the DTV market. I agree on the clunkers you mention that do poorly what Florentine does well, namely, solid fight scenes, very little in the way of patting himself on the back after said scenes, and an overall understanding that he's not making Undisputed, he's making a DTV movie based on Undisputed. DTV is at its best when the director doesn't try to make the next Raging Bull or Rocky.

  2. I mentioned Unrivaled for a particular reason...As for Damage, what I don't get is why we have to have a noble reason to fight. I mean what happened to revenge and just doing it for you. I mean there's a reason Bloodsport and Kickboxer are considered more classic than Lionheart (which is good too, but not as good) the reason because sentimentality bores us. Also the biggest problem with those films (and I would In Hell to the mix as well) is that they lack the real balls to the wall action element. I mean these fight sequences are what need to be done and how it should be choreographed. The first one is actually pretty good prison yard, but in sheer fun factor I'll take the other two. Although it would've been interesting to see Snipes in kickboxing mode. I wonder why Snipes chose to be in a sequel to Art Of War and not this. Which is fine cause Michael Jai White is more charismatic and likable.

    Like I said, if Florentine returns for Undisputed III i'm totally there. I mean call this high praise but this is the 21st century's answer to Kickboxer 1, 2 and 4. Which I found all enjoyable.

  3. I meant return for Undisputed 4...

    Also In Hell (which i'll probably review soon) is on rewatch (have it on a double DVD with Wake Of Death which I like, but not so much In Hell) that this actually tried to combine Midnight Express with Bloodfist II! Is there any reason this didn't work?

    Midnight Express is where you see the harshness of prison and In Hell rips it off wholesale. What is most surprising is that Prison On Fire 1 and 2 (directed by Ringo Lam) are brutal films (i'm not sure what you would think of them) but they work as serious drama. As did Midnight Express. However all things's hard to believe Ringo Lam went from Full Contact (One of my favorite movies of the 90s) to In Hell (and I liked Maximum Risk and Replicant) So, maybe putting in that in context you can understand why In Hell was so brutal.

  4. Yeah I agree that in a lot of cases, it's better just to have a guy like Atkins in Undisputed III, where fighting is all he knows and what he's good at, just wanting to prove to himself that he still has it. That's more compelling a concept than having to fight for freedom or to save someone.

    I wonder if Snipes wasn't available. Plus, they were using Ving Rhames' charecter, not Snipes', so that may have been it. It should be noted too that the third Art of War featured an extremely over-his-head Treach from Naughty by Nature.

    In Hell didn't work for me because it was an attempt at action with Van Damme in the lead, but without his great martial arts. I think Van Damme and the film makers wanted to stretch his range, but really, In Hell didn't have the chops to pull that off, not like JCVD did.

  5. Hey Kenner, great write up. Love the site - how come you stopped doing reviews?

    Just did a write up on the Undisputed series myself. Check it out on

    For me, the third film really knocked out of the park. The second one was close but I felt Adkins did some his best work in the third. I've seen him try to play a lead in a couple of films but this was the first time he looked comfortable.