Redbelt (2008)
Redbelt (2008)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.

Release Date: May 9th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R

Director: David Mamet Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alice Braga, Max Martini, Emily Mortimer, Randy Couture, Rodrigo Santoro, Tim Allen, Caroline de Souza Correa, David Paymer

 


 

“R

edbelt” tries to cram the infusible intelligence of a courtroom drama with kung fu action and dizzying collusion. The lead character’s Jiu Jitsu mastery becomes a backdrop to the labyrinthine conspiracies at play, which are ultimately little more than preposterously bad circumstances. All the eccentric characters and unexpected twists in the world can’t help “Redbelt” from appearing desperate in its efforts to be something it’s not – a truly smart martial arts flick.

Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the owner and teacher of the Southside Jiu Jitsu Academy. He constantly struggles with poverty and financial mishaps, which compound one night when edgy attorney Laura Black (Emily Mortimer) accidentally shoots out the school’s window with a gun misplaced by Mike’s best student, Joe Collins (Max Martini), a police officer. Later, Terry visits his brother-in-law at a bar, only to be involved in a fight to protect wealthy movie producer Chet Frank (Tim Allen), who repays the favor by inviting Terry to dinner and giving him a $20,000 gold watch.

When Mike learns that Joe had been working at the bar but was swindled out of his pay, he gives him the watch to pawn for some quick cash. But the jewelry turns out to be stolen, putting Joe’s career as a cop at stake. Meanwhile, Mike is offered a co-producer role on Chet Frank’s latest film, and eventually gives the bigwig an idea for increasing the entertainment value for fighting – which is subsequently stolen and put to use by an international fighting association to attract more crowds and money. When Mike’s debts increase, he is forced to enter that very competition to win prize money; but his deep loyalty to the honor of martial arts may prevent him from participating in an event he knows to be opprobrious.

The first third of “Redbelt” is a confusing mess of character introductions and details that are seemingly trivial and unrelated. This can be expected from writer/director David Mamet (“The Spanish Prisoner,” “Spartan”), but audiences may not be able to sit through all these lengthy scenes of establishment. Once all of the personas are introduced, the pieces begin to fit together, and, sure enough, nothing is what it seems. Conspiracy and intricate circumstances flood the martial arts setting, leading to an unconvincing blend of legal drama, suspense, and fight choreography. But with its focus taken away from the simplicity of an escapist action film, it will be difficult to pin down a target audience – a group of people as interested in crime/mystery as they are hand-to-hand combat.

Several early subplots raise questions such as “Where is this going?” and “Why is he in this film?” Everything that was initially amusing is quickly lost to an arrangement of unbelievable circumstances. While Mamet tries to craft a twisty thriller storyline, the continual, detrimental coincidences that plague the underdog protagonist don’t come across as cunningly planned. Instead, they seem like plain old, rotten luck. And for fans of fast-paced martial arts actioners, “Redbelt’s” use of Jiu Jitsu doesn’t translate well to the big screen, resulting in jerky camera movements and lots of distracting close-ups to hide the lack of impressive (or what should have been flamboyant) fight maneuvers. Though each mysterious character makes a reappearance at some point – giving a glimmer of hope at a realized purpose – by the end of this enormously convoluted project, few viewers will be intrigued enough to want to sort out every hopelessly perplexing component.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10