directed by Dito Montiel
(Universal, 2009)

This is about as intense a street-level view of the crummier parts of New York City as you're ever going to get. The helicopter shots are stunning as well. At ground level, some set pieces really put you there, including an opening street brawl in front of Radio City Music Hall. This is Gotham as tourists seldom see it -- tacky shops, low-rent hotels, cheesy diners, crowded side streets with that only-in-New-York jumble of signage.

This movie really likes the faces of tough girls. The tracking shot as our fight team enters a convenience store in the Bronx, where the second fight is about to happen, shows women who look ready to cut your throat. In fact, props to whoever was in charge of casting and wardrobe for the whole Bronx sequence.

The third fight, staged in what looks like a palace for an audience of rich Chinese, pits our Shawn (Channing Tatum) against a martial arts guy. This fight builds to a slow climax with the martial arts guy's legs wrapped around Shawn's neck. As the audience realized what was going to happen, you could hear a collective intake of breath, followed by a loud "Wow!" I liked it that the fight audiences are standing right next to the fighters, crowding in and even touching them.

But make no mistake, this is a B movie. Standard acting. The bad guys all sneer outrageously. The fighters endure punishment no one really could. The love subplot is off the shelf. Luis Guzman (as Martinez) scowls right up until the end, when his big smile is even more disturbing than his scowl. There are a few implausibilities, such as the two main fight rivals in NYC happening to also have been wrestling rivals at an Alabama high school.

This movie unmistakeably borrows some elements from Midnight Cowboy. Although there is a gun scene, not one person gets shot.

The ending twist is pulled off well -- at least, it fooled me.

review by
Dave Sturm

28 November 2009

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