Peace Arch Entertainment // 2008 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ian Visser (Retired) // May 8th, 2009
Take your shot.
Note: Fight Night was previously released as Rigged.
Michael Dublin (Chad Ortis, The Hollywood Informant) makes a dangerous living. Crisscrossing the American southwest, the small-time con man fixes car races, street fights, and anything else that can be wagered on. After a crooked street race goes bad, Dublin finds himself on the receiving end of a beating, escaping only by the graces of a fast-fisted young woman who doesn't want anyone getting killed on her doorstep.
Impressed by her pugilistic skills, Dublin tracks down the fighter, Kate Parker (Rebecca Neuenswander), and convinces her to participate in an underground fighting tournament. Kate quickly plows through the ranks of male fighters, but Dublin's past threatens to upset the pair's run to the street fighting championship. With Dublin getting squeezed by his old boss, will he convince Kate that she should take a dive to save both him and their money?
Fight Night is a small film shot on a low budget with inexperienced actors. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; many such films have turned their limitations into solid entertainment. The film has a gritty, washed-out look that suits its subject matter, some dry humor, and a compelling lead actress. Unfortunately, none of these advantages can overcome some of the thinnest and most cliché-ridden writing to be found in the sports genre. As much the makers might hope Fight Night could be the next great fight movie, it ends up being a lot less Million Dollar Baby and a lot more Over the Top.
Blame writer Ian Shorr (Splinter) for cramming every possible sports and fighting cliché into the script for Fight Night. Both lead characters have dark, hidden pasts, and Dublin only wants to make enough money to buy his dad's old boat (he carries a dog-eared photo of it around in his pocket, naturally). Hard-boiled narration pollutes the opening and closing scenes and the film ends with a sappy, sweet conclusion that any viewer will see coming a mile away. And yes, the climatic fight of the film is one of those "from the brink of defeat" victories that overcomes all the odds.
The abuses continue. For some inexplicable reason, Shorr has made Kate into a lesbian. The only saving grace of this development is that it prevents a love story between the leads, but even this element of Kate's character remains undeveloped and inconsequential. Ortis' Dublin fares even worse; his only characteristic seems to be the ability to smoke a cigarette in every scene he is in. To top it of, he might just be the dumbest con man in history; watching Dublin work his scams, it's amazing that he manages to make it out of any situation without being beaten to death. There are a few dry one-liners scattered throughout the film, and Kate's story about how she lost her sense of taste is a nasty one, but nothing makes these characters compelling or interesting enough to invest in.
Director and editor Jonathan Dillon (Inspiration) does what he can with a bad script and a limited budget. He has a tendency to use a lot of flash cuts and freeze-frame techniques early on, but settles down after the opening scenes. Perhaps because of a budget limitation, Dillon has shot Fight Night entirely in middle frame; I'm not sure there is a single wide shot in the entire film. The fights are shot in a similar manner, likely in an effort to hide the lack of extras present at each match. At least you can tell what is happening in the bouts, which is a nice change from many of today's hyper-edited action sequences.
If there is a saving grace in Fight Night, it comes from newcomer Rebecca Neuenswander. Neuenswander is a fighter in real-life and the experience shows. Hillary Swank got a lot of credit for her work in Million Dollar Baby, but aside from an impressive physique I was never really convinced of her fight skills. Neuenswander, in contrast, has a bagful of moves and looks great throwing punches and ducking shots. Even better, she has a natural charisma and appeal that suggests she might have a future as an honest-to-goodness actor. It's too bad the writer didn't give her more to work with, but for a first-timer Neuenswander does far better with the role than one might expect.
The copy of Fight Night I received for review was a screener devoid of any features or options. Owing to its digital video source the widescreen image contains significant grain throughout, but it adds to the sense of grit that the film tries to establish. The audio is a two-channel Dolby digital offering that delivers the impacts of punches loud and clear.
Fight Night is a film that requires a lot of belief suspension. If you can't buy the notion that a 135-pound woman could pound her way through a half-dozen fights with bigger, heavier men this will be a tough film to get behind. Even if you can make that leap the thin, clichéd writing leaves the actors and story bloodied against the ropes.
Rebecca Neuenswander is acquitted for her work, but Fight Night goes
down in the third round via TKO.
Review content copyright © 2009 Ian Visser; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Peace Arch Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site