2008, Movie, R, 99 mins


A perverse mixed-martial arts film in which talk trumps action, David Mamet's ode to philosopher warriors at odds with the crass, commercialized modern world rehashes the playwright-turned-filmmaker's familiar themes: Women will betray you, fat cats will promise the world and steal your ideas, honor is despised, lying and duplicity rewarded, everyone has a hustle and no good deed goes unpunished.

Mike Terry's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) Southside Jiu-Jitsu gym is perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy despite his formidable reputation as a martial artist's martial artist. His finances would improve if he fought professionally, but Mike believes the artificial rules of competition weaken the warrior. His ideals are straining his marriage to Brazilian-born Sondra (Alice Braga), whose family has made good money in jiu-jitsu: Her brother Bruno (Rodrigo Santoro), is a famous fighter, while Augusto (John Machado) runs a nightclub and dabbles in fight promotion. Even Sondra's dressmaking business would be lucrative if she weren't perpetually plowing the profits into Mike's gym, and just when it appears things couldn't get much worse, the storefront's plate glass window falls victim to an unconvincing mishap involving high-strung lawyer Laura (Emily Mortimer) and a gun belonging to Officer Joe Collins (Max Martini), Mike's star student. Mike and Joe, who has his own pressing money problems, agree not to report the incident rather than ruin Laura's career, but their honorable pact sets off a chain reaction of events that promise opportunity but prove to be cruel traps. Forced to ask his brother-in-law for a loan to replace the window, Mike rescues Hollywood action star Chet Frank (Tim Allen) from an ugly scuffle. The grateful Chet invites him into the gilded world of Hollywood power and privilege; Chet's right hand, Jerry Weiss (Joe Mantegna), promises Mike a co-producer credit on Chet's new movie, while Chet and Jerry's sleek, dilettantish wives invite Sondra to join them in a business venture. It seems too good to be true, and it is: When the tinsel tarnishes, Mike is in such straits that he must fight on the undercard of a vulgar, gimmicky match between Sondra's brother and Japanese champ Taketa Morisaki (Enson Inoue).

Inspired by his interest in mixed martial arts, Mamet's ode to the samurai spirit quickly bogs down in coincidence-driven plotting that's only partially offset by a colorful cast of supporting characters, including David Paymer's mournful loan shark, Rickey Jay's gleefully sleazy fight promoter and illusionist Cyril Takayama's profoundly annoying magician. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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