If we were to say that 'Death Warrior' effectively stripped the underpants off the entire MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) camp and ran them up the flagpole to give the world a reason to laugh their asses off, that would probably be putting it kindly. Porn-quality acting and equally cringe-tastic writing is bad enough, but when fight choreography from martial arts champions is upstaged by the tussles seen in teen chick flicks like 'Twilight,' something is terribly wrong.
'Unrivaled' is the latest addition to this fight flick family that, much to my chagrin, I recently received for review. While I will go as far as saying that the movie isn't quite as embarrassingly self-degrading as its slightly older brother, the truth of the matter is at the end of the day, those underpants are still a-swayin' in the breeze.
Former kickboxing champion Hector Echavarria co-writes, co-produces, and stars as Ringo Duran, a small-time cage fighter and big-time failure. Unable to make enough cash by constantly losing in the ring, Ringo is forced to work a second job at a strip club to pay the bills. To make matters worse, Ringo has landed in a bit of hot water, owing twenty grand to a mobster, Sergio (Al Sapienza of 'The Sopranos'). But what Ringo lacks in skill or wealth he makes up for with heart--which not only attracts a young sidekick in Link (Steven Yaffee), but also somehow wins over the sexy Kara (Jordan Madley).
Ringo's life changes dramatically when Christopher Holland (UFC's Rashad Evans), the champion and part owner of the top fighting league in the world, schemes to boost ratings with an exclusive event that will give amateurs a shot at his title. Without Ringo's knowledge, Link signs up his role model, who conveniently ends up being one of the few hand-picked for the bout. Now Ringo is faced with a chance of a lifetime, an opportunity to wipe all his debts clean--but does this over-the-hill zero have what it takes to become the ultimate hero?
Last time we had the overused fight-against-your-will premise, so I guess it only makes sense that this time we switch over to the "other" well-beaten plot in these kinds of movies: the underdog story. Unfortunately, instead of even attempting to deliver anything fresh, 'Unrivaled' just shamelessly rips off 'Rocky' time and time again--from an Apollo Creed clone to the obligatory training montage--resulting in little more than another round of cliché-ridden, unoriginal drivel. Actually, scratch that, this production does have one added bonus--it's basically a 108-minute commercial for Tapout apparel. The stars don't just model the clothing line, there are Tapout ads plastered around every single turn. It's so painfully overdone that it wouldn't really surprise me if it was the sole purpose for the film's existence.
The fights are an improvement over 'Death Warrior,' though that isn't saying much. The choreography is more in tune with MMA styles, and co-writer/director Warren P. Sonoda tries to mask any deficiencies with quick edits and other filming techniques he picked up from his background directing music videos in Canada. Thing is, when the dust settles what little we see still looks forced and unnatural (which one of the fighters even candidly admits in the supplements). Sonoda's MuchMusic roots also seem to get the best of him at times. An example is whenever the soundtrack kicks in, every tune has to play through in their entirety--so the movie is essentially composed of a string of videos, rather than scenes.
Finally, and this might sound harsh, but the way Echavarria continues filling the shoes of a fighting champ and is always surrounding himself with naked women is starting to wear thin, almost to the point of bordering on mid-life crisis territory. No offense to Echavarria, as he seems to be a really nice guy and can probably still kick the asses of most men, but let's be realistic here--he's just not in tip-top physical shape anymore. It's hard to miss the spare tire forming around his midsection, and although his decline in fitness at least suits this particular character, the fact is it's a tough pill to swallow when he's besting UFC painbringers like Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine, Nate "The Great" Marquardt, and Forrest Griffin--who are younger and in the prime of their lives. If you want to make action movies, then be an ex-Navy Seal or a former marine, but it's time to hang up the shorts and let go--your kickboxing glory days are behind you.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate releases 'Unrivaled' onto a BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. There are forced trailers for 'Gamer,' 'The Condemned,' 'Hulk Vs.,' and the ultra-cheesy 'Lionsgate Blu-ray' promo before getting to the main menu screen. The Blu-ray is also reported to be region-locked and therefore will only function properly in Region A compatible PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
Since we're dealing with another bottom-feeder production here, I was fully expecting a coordinating video transfer to match. Surprisingly though, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) encode on this Blu-ray turned out to be about the only real positive this release has to offer.
The source is quite clean with no instances of artifacting or blemishes, and digital noise is kept to a minimum. This is a colorful film and many scenes have been cast in deep yellow, blue, or bronze tints, though that's an obvious stylish intent of the filmmakers. Black levels are solid and remain consistent throughout the picture, and shadow delineation is nicely rendered. Whites can be radiant, particularly during the daylight sequences, as contrast is manipulated to run bright and hot. There is the odd occasional blurring, and the gratuitous nudity is all filmed with soft focus, but most of the time when the cinematography is on target the clarity is actually impressive. Close-ups of faces reveal minute details and textures, so pores, wrinkles, and crow's feet pop off the screen. Edge enhancement and DNR aren't much of an issue, either.
While the high-definition presentation for 'Unrivaled' may not be pitch-perfect, to be honest it is pretty satisfying--which is far better than the film deserves that's for sure.
Although the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack isn't as notable as the visuals, it's still miles better than the last torturous flick put out by Echavarria and his crew.
Conversations are clean and intelligible, without being accompanied by an annoying hissing this time. While the music doesn't stray from the right and left front channels, it still is pretty decent and at least the tracks don't all sound the same. There isn't much activity from the rear speakers aside from the occasional bursts of crowd ambience that plants viewers smack in the middle of the fights. Punches and kicks do have some heft to them even if they rarely offer any directional movement, and the rest of the thumping is provided primarily by the B-grade soundtrack. The audio for 'Unrivaled' may not have many bells and whistles, but it gets the job done.
There are no other audio tracks available. However, there are optional English SDH, English, and Spanish subtitles.
The Blu-ray edition of 'Unrivaled' includes all of the same special features found on the concurrently-released standard-definition DVD. It may seem like there is a fair bit of content here, but most of the supplements don't really amount to much more than filler.
If only "rounds" were "stars," then I'd finally get to have that lovely bikini-clad assistant I keep pestering High-Def Digest for to help me close my reviews. Ah to hell with it, I'm pretending anyways.
No, 'Unrivaled' isn't nearly as incompetent as the horrendous 'Death Warrior,' but the movie is still riddled with terrible performances, overused clichés, and rigid, artificial choreography. This Blu-ray does deliver strong video and acceptable audio, though the supplements are rather unimpressive. Fans looking for a quick MMA fix may consider renting 'Unrivaled' as a last resort, but if you support the sport and wish to keep its dignity intact, then you'll be better off keeping your distance and just seek out the real deal.