When reigning heavyweight boxing champion of the world ‘Iceman’ Chambers (Ving Rhames) is sent to Sweetwater, a maximum security facility housing only the most hardened crims, on charges he swears are trumped up, it is big news.
Once inside Iceman wastes no time in claiming turf. He wants no allegiances, no friends and no favours. Anyone who tries to heavy him, threaten him or even help him gets punched. Iceman remains defiant when others would wilt, and never sways from his ‘I never done nothing’ message.
The elderly Ripstein (Peter Falk) sees an opportunity with Iceman. With several decades in identifying and promoting high level boxing Ripstein feels that Iceman might have a match on his hands in Monroe Hutchen (Wesley Snipes), a ‘lifer’ with a decade inside himself, and zero losses on his CV.
Iceman predictably guffaws (in that awesome Ving Rhames voice) and goes back to his brooding, until Ripstein informs him that with but a few strings pulled, the bout could see Iceman released from prison years sooner than scheduled.
Ving Rhames plays Iceman as a guy who was never given an even break, and who is determined not to let anyone use him unless he too benefits. Wesley Snipes on the other hand is more quietly confident, but quick to rise up against criticism or doubt. You could rotate a lifetime of comics under their noses and neither would crack a smile. Ain’t a damn thing funny here.
Undisputed is a boxing film, but not in the way of Rocky or Raging Bull or the underrated 1992 Gladiator. It gives us no sympathetic characters, no-one vies for our hope or even attention. It’s akin to having a personality contest between Paris Hilton and Tara Reid, sure the combatants are closely matched, but they are both so unlikable that no-one cares about the outcome.
There isn’t a tournament, just a single one off match. There isn’t a personal angle between the two fighters, not even much sledging beyond the ‘I’m tougher than you’ variety. Even the sport of boxing relies on building rivalries and highlighting the personalities. This film has neither, and it has the benefit of being able to manufacture them.
We get the inevitable montages – with far more Snipes than Rhames, because… come on, compare the pair! – and the final fight is actually OK if sadly predictable.
But like the combatants I too learned to be all dead inside. By the end of the film you could have shown either of them standing alone triumphantly over the defeated foe with their fist raised, and I would not have shown a hint of emotion. That isn’t because I am super-tough, it’s because I long since stopped caring at all.
Final Rating – 6 / 10. A perfectly mediocre and totally unnecessary 90s action vehicle.
Iceman (now Michael Jai White) is still a free man, travelling the world for promotions and maximising on his fame. It is on one such junket to Russia to spruik a product that Iceman finds himself imprisoned on trumped up charges.
Once again Iceman is indignant and arrogant, though he finds the Russian prison wardens far less… understanding. He also rapidly learns that the hierarchy among inmates in Russian prisons is harder to climb, and that atop the pyramid is Boyko (Scott Adkins), a surly thug with a knack for kicking crap out of opponents – you see the Russian prisons have an inmate fighting program too, with television coverage and everything.
Boyko doesn’t like Iceman. Iceman doesn’t like Boyko. Wonder if they’ll fight?
Same movie right? On paper Snipes and Rhames are better than White and Adkins, not in reality. Both newcomers seem far more likely combatants and far more adept in the ring. And by clearly showing that Iceman was wrongfully imprisoned, we finally have a sympathetic – almost underdog – character, although he does his best to remain unlikable.
It continues; as a location Russia is unlikely, but it is cheaper and makes the corruption and grimy goings on far more credible and plausible. Sure you can believe that unsanctioned fights might go on in a US prison, but you’d lay money that it goes on in Russia.
This time around the fighting also receives an upgrade. Adkins is by far the best equipped athlete in the franchise, flipping and leaping and kicking all over. (This requires that Iceman swiftly learn kickboxing, but like we weren’t going to have training montages anyway!) Furthermore, Adkins even Adcts… acts. And what White lacks in gymnastic ability, he gains with his imposing stature and cool deep voice.
If Undisputed ever watched Undisputed 2, it would know what the guy who invented the boombox might feel like when Apple first unveiled a device the size of a cigarette packet that held every song ever. “b-b-but I just invented something bigger, clunkier, more expensive and less practical?”
Undisputed overreaches slightly with a tacked on five minute ‘human interest’ coda, but the first 80 minutes are clearly a huge improvement on the first film, and everything a low budget generic macho fight film should aspire to.
Final Rating – 7 / 10. A distinct improvement. At this rate Undisputed 5 will be awesome.
As an eerily prescient early line of dialogue reminds (warns?) us; “Here we go again”.
Here we go again indeed.
Russian prison boxing bouts; still a thing. Big Bad Bustling Boyka is no longer a seething well muscled bundle of aspiration and animosity. With his leg never fully healing from previous traumas (and I would have thought Russian prison doctors were the best in the world?) he now sits ringside, looking on sadly at the balding fat ponytailed git who has stolen his title.
Now for another shocker. The unsanctioned illegal Russian Kick the Shit out of Each Other Federation lacks depth. It seems despite the lack of health care, basic safety and income prospects – despite ALL those benefits – people aren’t lining up to take a shot at the title.
So the prison gets all kinds of proactive, by importing a literal murderer’s row of possible combatants from across the globe, thankfully a bunch of guys who all practised differing disciplines (all taken from Tekken and Dead or Alive). OHHH DAAAA, we be having ourselves a tournament!
Boyka watches on, waiting for one of these men to gain the requisite applause to trigger his competitive chip, for that sideways glance to enrage him. When he gets both, like any good MMA Rocky clone he puts a bucket on a broomstick and gets lifting.
In a twist that does little for the movie the Prison Warden has his participants engaging in hard labour. They bust rocks by day and heads by night. In reality it is mere padding meant to show that it is different to the previous film. Ironically by removing these dumb scenes the film would be better for it, though of course that would make it the same as Undisputed 2, so I guess I am saying that film is better.
It is. The choreography here isn’t quite as sharp or innovative. Scott Adkins’ athleticism makes it work better than it deserved, but it is still a lesser effort.
And like Forrest Gump might say, “that’s all I have to say about that”.
Final Rating – 6 / 10. Undisputed 3 is better than 1 but not near as good as 2. I just hope this is noticed at awards’ season…
The best thing I can say about watching the Undisputed trilogy over three nights is that it inspired me to chase down some Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins films. They’ll be coming soon…