Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Prison Prescription: LOCKED DOWN (2010)

Movies about martial arts are kind of like a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western – you get the good, the bad and the ugly.  The last two categories have been booming as of late thanks to the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) and, more specifically, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Unfortunately, like the pro-wrestling boon in the 1990s, this means lots of fighters with all the range of a remote control heading to the silver screen in the hopes of parlaying their public recognition into a second career. While some have broken into the big-time (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in THE A-TEAM redux, for example), most fighters have languished in direct-to-video hell.

One of the current purveyors of the DTV MMA onslaught is director Daniel Zirilli.  He got his start directing rap videos and produced BLACK SPRING BREAK: THE MOVIE (1998), which I remember angering customers back when I worked at a video store.  Zirilli spent a decade producing crap that clogged video store arteries; “urban” films with titles featuring a Z in it like LATIN KINGZ (2003) done in a thug life font.  He latched onto MMA’s popularity and gave the world CIRCLE OF PAIN earlier this year.  You remember that one right?  It is the movie that gave the world the infamous Frank Mir vs. Heath Herring parking lot fight that my friend Dave said unfolded like the opening of a gay porn scene (how he knew that I don’t know).  Well, he is back with a vengeance with the MMA fighter laced LOCKED DOWN.

The film centers on undercover cop Danny Bolan (Tony Schiena, the lead of CIRCLE) and opens with him doing a drug deal with a guy named Mule (Forrest Griffin).  You can tell Mule is a badass because he has not one, not two, but THREE Tapout logos on his jacket!  Naturally, it all goes horribly wrong with an innocent rookie getting blown away and Bolan accidentally dropping Mule as he tries to save his life. Undercover cop cliché #1 taken care of, now let’s get onto #2. Bolan cleans up (shaving montage!) and gets it on with his girlfriend, who then proceeds to give him the post-coital “I don’t even know who you are” speech.  He wakes up to a Dear John letter, but that is the least of his worries as a S.W.A.T. team busts into his house and find drugs and money hidden in his mattress.  “This is a set up,” he screams.  Cliché #3 is in the books.

Bolan is quickly found guilty (no trial footage) and finds himself sent off to Blackwater prison.  And – wouldn’t you know it – it is overflowing with criminals he locked up.  What are the odds?  At the top of the list is Anton Vargas (the slumming Vinnie Jones, looking bloated as hell), a big time crime lord.  Now hold onto your hats because this might blow your mind.  Vargas runs this prison and has the warden wrapped around his little finger (thanks to young hookers). Also – make sure you are seated for this one – he runs an illegal underground fight circuit where prisoners fight to the death!  Whoa, where did they come up with such an original plot?  This barbaric bloodsport is showcased in the film’s opening when UFC fighter Cheick Kongo (as Silas) is punched in the balls (oh sweet, sweet justice) and killed by prison pound-for-pound champ Axl (Lance “The Snake” Cartwright). 

Bolan is taken to his new home (one cheap set cell block of 5 cells) and meets Irving (Dave Fennoy), his old black roommate who used to be a fighter.  Damn, I wonder if he will become his trainer and offer sage advice.  Leaving no cliché left unturned, Irving tells Bolan that when it comes to respect, “you got to earn it.”  Amazing! Of course, Bolan gets in trouble right away with thug Colton (Rashad Evans) as Bolan put away his cousin King (Kimbo Slice) down in Florida.  I’ll let Rashad’s fine acting skills explain:

Colton attacks Bolan in the lunch room and ends up with a face full of creamed spinach for his trouble.  This is the least of our cop hero’s worries though.  He meets with Internal Affairs agent Gwen (Sarah Ann Schultz), who promises to prove his innocence.  And time is of the essence for Bolan as Vargas, who is the one who framed him, wants his revenge via the underground fight league (“the cage is an institution” Vargas inexplicably says) and hopes to profit off it with his gambling operation that he runs out of his cell.  Bolan is resistant at first but a shiv from my main man Colton to the gut makes him change his mind.  Soon he is in that rusty cage and beating Colton into the land of living death (with Rashad suffering a similar fate as the Lyoto Machida match):

Naturally, this is all building to a final showdown with Axl, with Bolan beating up UFCer Joe Doerksen (as Slick!) in the process.  There is also a bit of SHAWSHANK in here as Irving plans his big escape during the final showdown.  Cue the loud guitar music!

Here it is, the film's highlight!
Wow.  Words can’t describe how bad this movie is.  Terrible action flicks are nothing new, but how are people still doing this crap in 2010?  I’m not joking – there is one guy in the opening credits who gets a “story by” credit.  Did he just say, “Hey, we should make a martial arts movie set in prison.”  Zirilli and co-screenwriter D. Glase Lomond leave no cliché unturned.  Now I’m not necessarily saying adhering to a blueprint is a bad thing (the UNDISPUTED flicks are a great example of how to do it right), but you have to have the talent to pull it off and Zirilli is no Isaac Florentine.  The direction is completely flat and – worst of all – the fight scenes adhere to the old Hollywood standard of letting editing do all the work.  Amazingly, this features better production values than the earlier CIRCLE OF PAIN.

Not gonna happen!
Of course, I didn’t watch this expecting it to be good.  I was more curious to see how the MMA fighters came off and, hopefully, find someone who is worse than BJ Penn in terms of acting.  Sadly, I didn’t get anything that bad, but we came close. I like Rashad as a fighter, but his adopting a tough guy persona was laughable. He actually sounds like a white guy doing a black street thug impersonation. Perhaps not wanting to spend money on dubbing, Frenchman Kongo is given no real dialog and Joe Doerksen only gets to scream as his leg is broken. Surprisingly, the best actors are Forrest and Kimbo.  Unfortunately, Forrest’s sarcastic delivery is totally out of place when you realize he is playing a drug dealer (whose gang likes watching strippers in the middle of a cold warehouse). Kimbo acquits himself well (he is a better actor than fighter), but his scenes of about 5 minutes are shoehorned in and don’t mix with the main plot.  With his mug on the cover twice, I haven’t seen Kimbo that exploited since Dana White put him on THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER season 10.  If I had to credit the film with anything, it would be the round about ways they worked in some nudity.  On the downside of that, you get to see helmet-haircut sporting Bai Ling lay on a naked Vinnie Jones.  **shivers** You also have to love how the MMA clothing craze apparently extends into prison life as Vargas has Hitman Fight Gear and Tapout (who “presented” this film) logos on his wall and fighter.  Really.

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