So apparently there's a series of films called 'Undisputed.' That's news to me. It began in 2002, with writer/director Walter Hill creating a prison grudge match film starring Westley Snipes and Ving Rhames. The twenty million dollar actioner made just over half it's cost back, but that didn't prevent 'Undisputed II: Last Man Standing' from being made in 2006. Rhames was recast with Michael Jai White ('Black Dynamite,' 'Spawn'), and a newcomer to the series was introduced, a certain embodiment of all things awesome, Scott Adkins. After relishing minor roles such as Henchman, Swimming Pool Fighter, and French Footballer (yes, those were his roles in 'The Medallion,' 'Danny the Dog/Unleashed,' and 'The Pink Panther'), he was given the chance to shine in the direct-to-video actioner, and his career hasn't faltered yet, despite the fact that he's still a relative unknown to most moviegoers. He's recently burned up the screen as Weapon XI in the awful 'Wolverine' movie, and got a chance to headline an actioner as a gaijin warrior in 'Ninja' (which, by the way, deserves at least a rental, folks). But now, Adkins' 'Undisputed II' character, Uri Boyka, is back, with a vengeance.
If you're as unfamiliar with the series as I was, you really don't need to go back and view the first two films before giving the third one a try. All you really need is a few friends over, some high cholesterol treats, and some liquor, and Mr. Adkins will do the rest. The only backstory you need is shown in flashback early in this third entry, so getting "lost" in this one is pretty tough.
Convicted murderers, fighting to the death for their freedom. Doesn't sound all too original, does it? Sometimes they do it by their own will, sometimes they're forced into it. It doesn't really matter, nor does any resemblance of a plot. Boyka is an injured fighter, with his destroyed left knee causing him difficulty even with walking. But that doesn't stop him from wanting to fight, and his competitors in his Russian prison don't stand in his way much, either. When Boyka, along with seven international prisoner/fighters, are brought to a Georgian (the country, not the state) maximum security prison for a tournament, where the winner gets set free, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Boyka to finally get to taste freedom again. But when the tournament is revealed to be rigged by its founders, with seven of the competitors being forced to do hard labor, get hard beatings, and sometimes being starved, someone has to fight back. That someone just so happens to speak with a Russian accent.
What 'Undisputed III: Redemption' lacks in originality and plot, it makes up for with action. Really, all this film is is a martial arts demo video, with some corny acting surrounding it for effect. We really could care less about the rivalry that turns to friendship between Boyka and Turbo (Mykel Shannon Jenkins). Boyka's relationship to his handler, Gaga (Mark Ivanir), is equally irrelevant. The shady dealings of the men running the tournament are also just filler, motivation for the best around...'cuz nothing's gonna ever keep him down, not even being hobbled and an easy target to his fellow challengers.
The action choreography is top notch, as are the fights (we see more than a handful, as this isn't just some tournament where we only see the lead character's progression) are more than interesting. They're bloody fuckin' brutal, and the men behind them are pretty damned talented. Of course, Adkins takes the cake in this household, as his physical talents are second to none, but with Lateef Crowder (also found in 'The Protector'), billed as "The Brazilian Fighter," providing some amazing feats of agility, and the direction (from Isaac Florentine, the director of the second 'Undisputed' film, along with the afforementioned 'Ninja') helps bring long shots, rather than choppy action that highlights two second moves in a horrendous montage. The physical performances blow away any of the "acting" found by the cast, by about three and a half miles, and two buckets of blood. It's diverse, with each of the eight fighters bringing a unique style to the mat. It's fast paced, and it's bloody as all get out.
Problematically, though, the camera tells the tale before it happens, as it follows around the winners with an obvious bias that prevents us from being able to fully appreciate the brutality laid before us. 'Undisputed III: Redemption' is a low budget film, to be sure, with limited (repeated) sets, limited (repeated) shots, and a couple of cardboard sets that are funny to watch wobble (heh). But this isn't the kind of film one needs a brain or analytical eye for. It's best if you don't think about the kinds of strings that would have to be pulled for a single one of these fighters to appear, let alone eight. It's best you don't think about a convicted murderer (or mass murderer, as the case may be) being set free by, you guessed it, murdering people. It's just best you don't think. Put the brain on cruise control, and get ready to cheer on the brutality you're going to witness. 'Undisputed III: Redemption' isn't a bad film, by any means. If anything, it deserves praise for potentially exposing more audiences to the sweet abilities Adkins delivers to the screen, but damn, it could have been something more than just another prison fighting tournament film.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Undisputed III: Redemption' arrives on Blu-ray with a region free BD25 disc housed in a standard case. There are a couple pre-menu trailers, but that's Warner Bros/New Line's new thing, so get used to it. The menu for the film doesn't even have a chapter selection tab, just a play movie option and a setup bar.
There are two ways to have a guaranteed awesome looking film. One, obviously, is to create it artificially, via CGI. The other? The RED ONE camera. Like 'Che,' 'The Girlfriend Experience,' and 'The Informant!' before it, 'Undisputed III: Redemption' utilizes the innovative new gadget, and the result is a winner. Slightly opened up from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1, with a VC-1 1080p encode, this direct-to-video action sequel (a dangerous term, indeed) is an undisputed winner in the video department.
Detail is amazing, with the finest pores, beads of sweat, sprays of blood, or, best of all, the watery mixture of sweat and blood, all leaping right off the screen. Even with distance shots, definition is never an issue. Edges are clean and natural, and there's not a single moment of banding, while artifacting is also kept at bay. Skin tones are accurate and lush, while bruises and wear and tear appear realistic. Colors are perfect, with great black levels. My only gripes are that this film has some very dark scenes in the first act of the film that can't support much detail, and there are a few shots with a light wavering pulsation to them, and a couple juttery pans. Don't fret the small things, though, as the RED ONE delivers yet another winner.
The audio for 'Undisputed III: Redemption' comes in one flavor: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with a couple subtitle options. This film is so loud, it has to be spelled out and capitalized, L-O-U-D. We get great bass use, with impacts in fights, light atmosphere, and even soundtrack bumps providing nice rumble. Ambience is perfect, with rears getting an appropriate level of activity in fights, and rooms matching their "busyness," in a sense. There's some light movement on the larger swings in fights, and some nice localization, but this film doesn't give that area much opportunity to shine. The problem here is the rap soundtrack, and not just because it's rap. It can overwhelm action and dialogue, with impacts losing their punch, literally, and dialogue in a few scenes becoming drowned out completely. Worse yet, in one sequence, the blend of dialogue, action, chanting, and soundtrack creates unintelligible white noise.
There is no extra content on this disc.
Some day, my prayers will be answered, and I may just get to see Scott Adkins taking on Tony Jaa, much like Bruce Lee fought Chuck Norris, in the days before Norris was deemed immortal and omnipotent. Until that day comes, I'm just going to have to find every Adkins film, and partake in the great physical performances (not so much the acting) of the budding star. 'Undisputed III: Redemption' brings nothing new to the table, but it's still somewhat enjoyable. With a superb transfer and great audio, this one may be yet another sleeper hit on Blu-ray, but the lack of extras is a bummer, to be sure. This one may not have much replay value, but it still deserves at least a single viewing. Ignore the fact that it's a sequel to a sequel, and just enjoy.