Genius Products // 2008 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // January 13th, 2009
"You've been stroking that thing since I got here. You gonna jerk off, or are you gonna use it?"
If you're growing tired of your usual Friday night punch-ups, you could do a lot worse than give Ring of Death a spin. High art it isn't, but it is perfectly acceptable, totally undemanding entertainment. Sure, the concept may be a little clichéd and its logic a little suspect, but its simplicity allows for a fast-paced flick with just the right blend of cheese and sleaze to keep it the right side of interesting.
Ex-cop Burke Wyatt (Johnny Messner) is sent undercover into Cainesville State Prison to investigate a number of brutal murders; his reward for success will be a place back on the force. Once inside, Wyatt is quickly introduced to the underground fight club being run by the warden (Stacy Keach, Class of 1999). He finds it's responsible for the prisoner deaths, but before Wyatt gets a chance to expose the corruption, the warden sniffs out his plan and threatens the well-being of Wyatt's family. Now, with seemingly no chance of escape, Wyatt must partake in the warden's bloody competition and fight for his survival.
Clearly this isn't a film that's going to keep you riveted with a clever, twist-laden plot. Instead we get a return of sorts to films like Best of the Best 2 and Kickboxer, where testosterone, sweat, and a couple of cold beers with a friend or two meant a perfect night in.
The fight sequences in Ring of Death are surprisingly well-realized, each a suitably bloody affair that goes straight for the jugular. Certainly not one to put on while Grandma is round to visit, the brawls often incorporate weapons, so expect to see barbed wire wrapped around bloody knuckles, before the same piece of wire is used to garrote a fallen opponent. It's not uncommon to see the odd baseball bat smashed into someone's spine either; clearly Queensbury rules are not followed in this ring. An easy criticism to level at the fight scenes, and one that may not be an issue to some viewers, is the decision to incorporate Bourne-style fast cuts. Though not matching Bourne for the sheer number of cuts per minute, Ring of Death certainly embraces the style enough for it to become an issue. In an attempt to keep up its bad-ass image Ring of Death features more scenes of naked women, sporting ridiculously fake-looking breasts, partaking in hard drug use than you can sniff at.
Though the level of acting isn't particularly high, special praise should be awarded to Stacy Keach as the prison warden. Keach appears to be relishing the role, chiding the prisoners one minute and having scantily clad women draped over him the next; each line is delivered with perfect elocution, adding a little more personality to an otherwise one-dimensional character. Joining Keach on the commendations list is Lester "The Mighty Rasta" Speight, as uber-prisoner The President. Speight possesses an imposing physicality, which coupled with his exuberant demeanor sees him act as the movie's "boss" character. There's little required of Speight other than to play a human killing machine, but it's a role he excels in.
The screenplay contains plenty of clunky dialogue, which in many ways suits the hackneyed plot. Having never been incarcerated myself I can only assume the prison lingo is authentic. There are plenty of instances of coarse language, with men being called bitches and whatnot. One man even shouts quite loudly for one of the new inmates to "toss his salad"; I guess the prison service didn't provide him with any salad tongs of his own.
The DVD sports a surprisingly strong transfer. The picture is as sharp as a knuckleduster to the head with colors that are as striking as a knee to the sternum, Ring of Death also sports deep blacks with a fine layer of grain. The 5.1 soundtrack is crisp, and though the mix is a little front heavy, it really has little to fault it. No extras are included on this release.
What seemed destined to be another low-budget also-ran actually ends up being something of a contender. It may not be a classic, and the script may be desperately worn, but, thanks to its execution, Ring of Death has enough to redeem itself and earn a not guilty verdict.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated