The Arena (2001)
The Arena (2001)

Genre: Action and Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: August 28th, 2001 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Timur Bekmambetov Actors: Karen McDougal, Lisa Dergan, Olga Sutulova, Yuliya Chicherina, Severina Kamugish Kemirimbe, Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Anatoly Mambetov




overnor Timarchus (Viktor Verzhbitskiy) has just completed the construction of a new coliseum in Dorostorum for his mighty gladiators to battle to the death as entertainment for the people. The games are brutal, though there’s an immediate shoddiness to their portrayal; to mask the fact that the budget is minimal, ridiculous editing techniques blur colors, distort imagery, and cut hastily, each pairing with repetitive sound effects. Even some of the soldiers can’t keep their helmets on straight, which is a definitive sign of amateurishness.

In Rome, nobleman Maximus’ debts are settled by the confiscation of his prize slave, Jessemina (Karen McDougal), who is brought back to Dorostorum (“the worst place in the world”), where Timarchus groans over the lack of suitable warriors for his arena. He sends henchman Priscium (Kirill Ulyanov) to Rome to acquire new fighters, along with some women. To join Jessemina, four girls are purchased, including Bodicia (Lisa Dergan), Livia (Olga Sutulova), Diedra (Yuliya Chicherina), and Lucinia (Severina Kamugish Kemirimbe), who are promptly assaulted by their handler, Cornelia (Natalia Surkova), with a wet rag, and then raped by the gladiator slaves.

It’s not long before the new combatants take to the arena, exhibiting some absolutely pitiful fight choreography – the kind that features quick cuts and shots of the aftermath rather than skillful dueling. There’s some blood and severed limbs, but the intensity level is incredibly low. It doesn’t help that between the matches are pitiful map effects, unnecessary flashbacks, the spontaneous introduction of a narrator (again, for no reason), and unbelievably bad dialogue (several of the conversations sound as if improvised on the spot, chatting about anachronistic fancies). And the acting is atrocious, with frequent dubbing – or lines delivered over the top of absurd close-ups – that hides the inability of the actors to emote. “Welcome to my holding cell.”

Of course, “The Arena” is an exploitation picture, concerned predominantly with nudity, some unconvincing swordfights, and then more nudity. Twanging electric guitars sound completely inappropriate for a period piece, though they preside fittingly over the softcore sex scenes between musclebound Quintus (Igor Botvin) and McDougal and Dergan – one of which involves both women one after the other. Eventually, when all the suitable men perish in the coliseum, Timarchus decides to throw the women into the ring – which first requires extensive training by instructor Septimus (Anatoly Mambetov).

“How long must I wait?” Ultimately, “The Arena” isn’t much of a movie. It’s mostly an excuse to show off the bodies of former Playboy Playmates McDougal and Dergan, including slow-motion running as breasts spill out of robes, various sex and rape scenes, and even an oily rubdown for the nude corpse of one of the amazons. There’s barely enough of a plot to fill a 90-minute picture. In fact, the filmmakers are so desperate to pad the running time that they give Septimus a love story subplot, while a celebratory hand-in-hand jumping/chanting/dancing sequence for Timarchus and his troops proves to be ludicrously goofy. It would have been less silly to simply replay one of the flashback sex scenes. Even the climactic arena showdown is so pathetically edited together that it’s impossible to hide the utter lack of genuine stunts or combat talent.

– Mike Massie

  • 1/10