Fox // 2005 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 7th, 2005
Some men must fight for their redemption.
One of my favorite video games of all time is Pit-Fighter, the Midway brawler, released in the arcade, then played to death by me on my Sega Genesis. Even though it was largely reviled by most people, I dug the game, what with its proto-digitized characters and its over-the-top carnage. So when I heard about this movie, the pubescent gamer within wondered: "Could this film have been inspired by my beloved video game?" Well, of course, it isn't, and the pubescent gamer needs to shut his mouth. Idiot.
A mysterious man named Jack (Dominique Vandenberg) finds himself in a strange place, covered in blood, and missing his memory. A man named Manolo (Steven Bauer, Traffic) takes him to a surgeon to get repaired, then promptly starts thinking of ways to use this battered stranger to achieve good standing with the Mexican mafia.
It isn't long before he discovers Jack's two talents: his left fist and his right fist. Though Jack's memory is nuked, his fighter instincts are intact; he wows Manolo with a display of carnage at a local gym, mopping the canvas with the town's best fighters.
Jack has found his use in his new life -- as a pit fighter.
Night after brutal night, Jack pulverizes every opponent in the pit, much to the glee of the mafia highers-up, flush with cash from their new cash cow. Outside of the ring, however, Jack lives a solitary, meditative life, quietly serving in a local monastery and giving all of his earnings to the priest, while trying to nurse the scraps of fleeting images in his mind into cohesive memories.
But what awaits him at the end of his search is an unwelcome realization, and his skills of violence will soon be used for more than just knocking in teeth and getting paid.
I had fairly high hopes for this flick. Maybe it was the tugging of nostalgia from the crappy old Genesis game. Plus I'm a sucker for underground-fighting-for-money movies (e.g., Lionheart, Ong Bak, uh, Conan the Barbarian). Truth is, Pit Fighter turns out be an almost better-than-adequate fisticuffs excursion. Almost.
Action movies like this one live and die pretty much on the quality of the hand-to-hand combat. Whereas a coherent plot is welcome, I never found it that necessary. Besides, if you're tuning into a movie called Pit Fighter to soak up a memorable story, chances are your native planet is Neptune. So how are the fights here? Meh. The actions scenes aren't awful, but there's nothing really great. The mayhem is far better than typical straight-to-video fare, bloody and brutal, but the choreography is slow-paced and boring. I wasn't expecting Jet Li, but some more creativity in the fights would have been welcome.
That being said, this is a film that earns its R rating. The battles grow grislier as Jack advances. And while a solid dose of a hardass cinematic butt-kicking is always encouraged in my world, in Pit Fighter, the blood and sinew ran counter to the character of Jack the filmmakers established. Though Jack's past was muddled mess of villainy, it's clear he came from his memory loss a calmer, nicer pit fighter. He even goes so far as dragging out fights, taking a pounding in the process before cleaning house, so as to preserve the dignity of his opponent. This nobility, however, goes out the window as he starts to rip out the eyes, break the limbs, and dislocate the joints of his combatants. So then, if given the choice, a guy would rather his dignity be upheld than his eyeball not be torn from his socket? Don't think so.
Peripheral to the fight scenes is the plot, packed with elements derivative of many action flicks before it: You've got Jack having hallucinatory visions of a woman, who comes to visit him in the monastery once in a while, and then, in a scene ripped straight from Braveheart, she walks slowly through a crowd, looking at him; Jack's also got a mysterious tattoo on his chest, which is some sort of clue to his identity (see Memento); and then there's the whole The Bourne Identity angle, with a ruthless killer suffering from amnesia, then turning into a nice guy.
Finally, I have to mention the over-the-top final scene, which features Jack facing off against an endless horde of mafia fighters. I don't think I've ever seen such an egregious display of piss-poor marksmanship. Jack is standing in the middle of a town square, free of cover, blasting away at the bad guys who completely surround him, who are in turn opening fire with their own automatic weapons -- all in vain, of course. I don't know what the going rate is for mafia goons in Mexico, but the kingpin would have saved himself a lot of misery (and bullet wounds) if he had sprung for the deluxe models; these guys make Stormtroopers look like Israeli sniper champions. An outrageous, unbelievable conclusion that vomits on the believability of the first 70 or so minutes.
Pit Fighter comes in both fullscreen and widescreen transfers; go with the widescreen, a 1.78:1 anamorphic offering. The picture quality is about what you'd expect for straight-to-video fare. The color palette used is bright and orange-tinted, but overall it's a clean-looking picture. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is not as aggressive as I would have liked, even in the overblown finale. No extras.
Pit Fighter tries to separate itself from the glut of mediocre action crap, but a dull story, a ridiculous climax, and merely serviceable fight sequences keeps this fighter from climbing in the ranks.
Guilty, but time off for violent behavior.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* The Real Pit-Fighter