Judge Joel Pearce must break you.
Wrongly accused. Unjustly imprisoned. Now he's fighting back.
Well, New Line is the undisputed king of unrelated sequels. Undisputed II: Last Man Standing is a prison fighting movie featuring a character with the same name as but little resemblance to a character played by Ving Rhames in Undisputed. While there are a few passing references to the original film, that is as close as we get to continuity.
George Chambers (Michael Jai White, Spawn) was once a heavyweight champion, but he now finds himself starring in Russian vodka commercials. He's not happy about the situation. Soon he's even less happy as he is framed for trafficking drugs and sent to a rough Russian prison. Turns out that this prison has a hardcore Russian fighter named Uri Boyka (Scott Adkins, Pit Fighter), and the Russian mob really wants the two to fight to liven up their gambling enterprise. Chambers doesn't want to fight, though, and it's going to take some convincing.
Undisputed II: Last Man Standing is an unnecessarily complicated film. If the mob/government wants to run a televised boxing league, why run it in a prison? There's no benefit, and the drawbacks are considerable. If Chambers is so down and out that he's doing Russian TV commercials, isn't there an easier way to get him to fight than to create some crazy, complex kidnapping scheme? Why not, you know, offer him some cash? As each plot twist unfolds, the situation becomes more complicated. One would think the prison fighting genre would thrive on simplicity, but this film is a total head-scratcher.
Of course, you aren't reading this review because you want to know about the plot. You want to know if the film delivers on bone-crunching, head-bashing, no-holds-barred action. On this front, there is good and bad news. The fights between Chambers and Boyka are impressive, as both men are solid fighters and decent actors. The cinematography is some of the best fight filming I've seen in a while, too, which keeps the adrenaline high during those fights. Unfortunately, there are only a couple such scenes. Most of the other action consists of these two men beating the snot out of weaklings to show how tough they are. These fights are short, and not nearly so well filmed. With so much talent involved, I'm not sure why there isn't more action.
The same can be said about the acting. Michael Jai White isn't a particularly gifted actor, but he is certainly convincing as a conceited former heavyweight champion. He delivers a high-energy, aggressive performance, which is exactly what's needed. The pleasant surprise here is the British Scott Adkins, who delivers a subtle and wholly convincing turn as the Russian prison fight king. He has a great physical presence, but also shows some real acting chops. If he plays his cards right, we could be seeing Adkins in a number of action roles soon, in much higher profile films than this. I know I'll be watching for him in The Bourne Ultimatum now, even if he's only in a scene or two. The rest of the cast sinks into the background, none of the other characters are memorable in the least.
Ultimately, I'm not sure why this is a sequel at all. It feels like the script has been stretched and pulled to force it into the same structure as the original film. That may explain some of the odd plot complications (and I do understand that sequels to successful films have a better chance to make money). That said, I think there was quite a bit of talent involved in this production—enough that this could have been crafted into a unique little cult classic. Instead, New Line has once again gone the cheap route, and paid the price for not taking a chance. Still, serious martial arts fans will find enough here to make it worth watching once, which is more than I thought I'd be saying in the defense of Undisputed II: Last Man Standing.
The disc has also been well produced. The video transfer looks a bit washed out, but the black levels are strong and I didn't notice any digital artifacts. The sound transfer is less impressive, trapped mostly in the front channels. Still, it's only been the past few years that we've seen low budget sequels with this kind of technical quality. There are few extras on the disc, just a sparse commentary track with director Isaac Florentine (Special Forces), Michael Jai White, and Scott Adkins and a brief featurette. Neither are reasons to buy the disc.
To be certain, Undisputed II: Last Man Standing isn't high art. It isn't even low art. It is better than I expected, and far better than a lot of the direct-to-video martial arts films that flood the video store shelves. If you are a fan of fight movies, it's worth a watch. Just be prepared to fast forward a few scenes to get to the excellent fights. Beyond that, it's a jumbled, silly, mess of a film.
Since there's no reason for Chambers to be in prison, I'm going to let this one off with a warning. It's not really that guilty anyway.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
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