There’s few ways easier to lose my attention during a movie discussion/debate than to employ the phrase, “Well, Rotten Tomatoes gave it a ____% ‘Fresh’ rating.” Seriously, Skolnick?! You’re going to rest your argument on the quasi-scientific methodology of basement-bombers abound to take on the one and only Spartan?!
To quote Ochocinco . . . “Child puhleeeeeeeeeeze.”
Sure enough, pitiful soul recent threw out that line while venturing into the cinematic Thunderdome to take on yours truly in a discussion over the MMA-themed new release Warrior. And much like an over-matched UFC newcomer in his first outing, this individual was left bloodied and battered atop the floor of my proverbial Octagon.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood sunk their teeth into the growing appeal of mixed martial arts. However, rather than trying to create a unique film that sets the tone for a whole new sports genre, Warrior flounders from pillar-to-post in its attempt to recreate the age-old sports motifs it borrows from far superior films of yesterday. Hence, it’s 82% ‘Fresh’ rating on RT is baffling (though, it’s sub-$6 million take at the box office is more than deserving).
The film follows the story of two estranged brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) and their reformed alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). The brothers are worlds apart throughout the first two acts of the feature. Brother Brendan has set up a respectable life as a suburban family man and popular high school physics teacher who, like so many people in 21st century America, finds himself struggling to make ends meet. Military veteran Tommy on the other hand seems to have inherited his father’s wayward nature as he clings close to the bottle on the outskirts of society following a heroic stint during wartime.
Bringing the two men together is a one-of-a-kind Atlantic City MMA tournament seeking to pit the 16 best middleweight grapplers together in a two-day tournament to determine who is the baddest man alive. Aptly dubbed ‘Sparta’, the tourny offers a winner-take-all multi-million dollar prize.
For Brendan, a failed UFC fighter in his past life, its a chance to provide financial security to his family, while Tommy sees it as a way to fulfill a promise to a comrade lost in battle. As Tommy courts his father, the man who led him to a state wrestling title in high school, to train him, Brendan approaches an old fight world connection to lift him from local parking lot ‘smokers’ and into prizefighting.
All too easily, the washed-up never-was former pro and his barely amateur-level brother somehow gain entrance into the contest against 14 world-ranked fighters. Of course, a collision course is set and the two eventually meet in the octagon – complete with the support of spouses, fathers, school children, and marines – setting up a finale that is well executed, if only it were mildly plausible and we actually gave a shit.
If there’s anything that works here, it’s Nolte. He’s sad and strong, broken and unwavering. Nolte taps into the actor he once was and gives a heartbreaking portrayal of a man who is defined by nothing other than his plethora of past mistakes. In many ways, the role plays on our notions of the actual Nolte as if we caught a glimpse of his life following the infamous DUI mug shot from years ago.
The central problem here is that the film does nothing more than draw from sports movie catalogue, specifically those featuring boxing. The sons’ relationship with their father is much like that of Rocky and Mickey in Stallone’s original film; the father figure who has long wanted nothing to do with the son until there is something for him to gain. In this case, Nolte’s patriarch stands to gain the family his sobriety longs for.
Brendan is a hodgepodge of genre clichés. His family his hard-up for cash so he’s left with no other choice but to fight (see Rocky II, Cinderella Man). He never made beyond opponent status, but if given the chance, he’s sure to become a champion (see Rocky, The Fighter, or Cinderella Man, again). He risks life and limb in unsanctioned ‘smokers’, ’cause a man’s gotta do what . . . you get it (see Gladiator, the sick Cuba Gooding one – not the lame Russell Crowe flick).
Although the action is entertaining, the notion of the tournament itself is laughable and unoriginal. At least Lincoln Hawke had to post an entry fee in Over The Top’s all-too-similar tournament. And the format itself is unsanctionable, far-fetched, and way more believable when it was presented 20 years ago in the podunk town portrayed in Diggstown. And perhaps most appalling is how the writers decided to take it to ’11’ with a rip-off of Rocky IV’s Olympic Champion Ivan Drago. This time though, the gold medalist’s name is Koba (Kurt Angle) and judging by the use of the former Soviet Union’s flag, no one has told him about the fall of communism that happened back in 1991.
Mixed martial arts and its growing fanbase are sure to dictate another – hopefully, much better – Hollywood feature on the subject. However, this film is trash. It’s sentiment and dramatic tone would be better served by a movie that is inspired. The persona of a fighter, whether its a boxer or MMA combatant, makes for great cinematic fodder and I find it hard to believe that it’s a well gone dry. But judging from Warrior, it seems as though we’ve reached the dusty bottom.
1 NerdSkull for this nonsense.