Image Entertainment // 2005 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 11th, 2007
Welcome to the future...
What can you do against a ruthless, oppressive dictator with an army of brainwashed killers ready to do his bidding? You punch him in the face with your fist!
As noted in the tagline, this film takes place in the future, 2046 to be exact, and civilization has crumbled. From the ruins a fascist dictatorship has risen (surprise!) to keep the plebes under control. Guns and lasers are no longer the weapons of war, replaced by fists and sticks and, um, sticks with knives on the end. Martial arts have become the method of force, and those that have mastered the hand-to-hand combat rule the landscape.
The leader of the fascist movement systematically eliminated all known martial arts masters so he could remain as the sole kung-fu stud. But before he could wipe them all out, one master put all the trade tricks into a book and hid it, then killed the leader in a big-ass fight. Unfortunately, the leader's son, Bosco (?!) who looks like a Bizarro Peyton Manning, steals the book and starts his own fascist movement, training his underlings in the lethal arts.
But, there is someone out there who is about to -- challenge -- Bizarro Peyton Manning's new world order. It's the number one disciple of that dead master I was telling you about before: a guy who looks like Dawson from Dawson's Creek. Dawson is a kung-fu killah, and smacks around a whole host of people throughout the film, including the leader of the underground collection of misfits and castoffs, Vinzent, or as I like to call him, Ahmadinejad. The two move past their differences and come together to wage war and save the world.
You know what The Challenge is? It's a video game. A hyper-kinetic, frenzied video game starring a bunch of good-looking Eastern Europeans who know how to fling their legs in several directions at the same time. It's a low-fat, high-carb fight-fest. If you're a fan of balls-to-the-wall action films -- minus the burden of having to work through a plot more challenging than a Hyundai commercial -- then there might be something here for you.
First the negatives. For one, the plot is hugely derivative. Dictators, dystopian future, a plucky band of rebels outmanned by the evil minions, a hero who recruits his friends because he's a nice guy, one of whom has a hot sister -- it's all there, and you've seen variations of the plot in The Challenge in millions of other movies. The story is forgettable, and often flirts with outright corniness. This wouldn't be too bad for an action movie, except that writer/director Johannes Jaeger really wants his movie to be big and cool and epic. I'll give him "cool," but "big" and "epic" is a little too much.
There's a generous helping of CGI in this film. Jaeger employs the visual effects to render backgrounds (not bad), buildings (eh), even trucks (didn't work for me). Still, though they aren't high-priced effects, none are so bad they distract from the film and Jaeger dreams up some interesting shots to place them in. The video quality hurts the special effects, but more on that later.
The best part about this film is the action. The fight sequences are very well-choreographed and the actors who bring them to life have serious skills. Their talent is impressive and Jaeger knows how to frame the encounters to maximize their skills. Only a minimal amount of wire and effects work were used for embellishment, which keeps the fight relatively grounded in reality. There aren't many slow scenes in this film -- certainly none devoted to plot development or character arcs. The final third is devoted to an enjoyable series of "boss fights."
So...I dig this movie and enjoyed the action. However, the video quality is so horrendous, it nearly derails the entire film. The picture is hazy and jaggy. When the lighting turns dark, watch out; you won't be able to tell what the @#$% is going on. Major points are deducted for this pathetic transfer. The audio presentation is a little better, though the English dubbing on the 5.1 track is cheesy. I'd stick with the original German and go with subtitles. Just the trailer for extras.
I got a kick out of this movie and thought the fight scenes were top-shelf. A half-baked plot and a Godforsaken video treatment are big downers, though.
The punching and kicking are great. But the folks behind the video transfer are given life sentences.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated