In a blog posting over on the Huffington Post, Sean Penn — no blind, knee-jerk supporter of Barack Obama — takes the piss out of those that would criticize Obama’s recent handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying, “This is a pattern of bad acting advice from bad actors. All wimps think playing a tough guy is done in one-note coldness. With a friend or an enemy, our president will gain greater strategic position with a smile.”
With James Toback’s Mike Tyson documentary hitting screens and Fighting in theaters this weekend, it seems something pugilistic is in the air, so it’s as good a time as any to assay Fight Night, a new straight-to-video release that’s part con man roadshow, part femme-centric, bloodied-lip Never Back Down-type programmer, and part unlikely bonding tale. All in all, though quite obviously cramped by limited production means, this movie connects as at least a solid indie jab, courtesy of some effectively engaging performances, smarter-than-average plotting and fun dialogue.
A lonely drifter on the run from a past best forgotten, con man Michael Dublin (Chad Ortis, smoking theatrically) works the underground fight club circuit, moving from one scam to another and leaving a trail of enemies in his wake. When he gets his ass saved one night by down-and-out Katherine Parker (Rebecca Neuenswander, above, a total ringer for The Biggest Loser‘s Jillian Michaels), a female fighter with the skills to take down a man twice her size, Dublin seizes upon his best scam scheme yet. Rigging fights in reverse, the two — uneasy partners through and through — hit the road, working fights in seedy basement bars, backwoods county fairs and rundown warehouses. Eventually, though, Dublin’s shady past catches up with them, raising the stakes higher than they’d imagined possible.
Fight Night is billed as an action flick, and understandably so — there’s a reason its title was changed from Rigged, its original moniker — but that’s not where most of its appeal lies. In truth, the fisticuffs are frequently muddled to the point of being ridiculous, boring, or both, with odd angles and botched edits betraying the logic of the action. In scenes of inaction, though, the film is actually quite nicely photographed, and powered by a snarky, Moonlighting-style rapport between its leads. On the surface, Ortis’ Dublin is too smirky by about a third, but one eventually warms to it, especially since Parker frequently gets to call him out on his behavior, generally denigrating him and cracking on “that cock-holster you call a mouth.”
If that brings a wince, yes, it’s true, Ian Shorr’s script loads up on finger-snapping dialogue (“Hey, I don’t care who you rock the casbah with, kitty cat,” says Dublin to Parker, “but we’re business partners now…”) that could — and, well, kind of does — undercut some of the heavier dramatic stuff that comes into play as the movie wears on. But Neuenswander and Ortis have a nice chemistry, and director-editor Jonathan Dillon stages the more character-centric scenes in a way that makes you lean forward a bit. The end result isn’t high art, perhaps, but it outclasses the baser solicitations of its cover box art, shows all-for-one spirit and effort on the part of its makers, and is certainly better than it has a right to be, given the budget and other means.
Presented in a 16×9 widescreen aspect ratio, along with English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo audio tracks, Fight Night comes housed in a regular plastic Amaray case. English and Spanish subtitles are also included. Despite the touted press release inclusion of a production featurette, digital copy of the movie and an accompanying photo gallery, there aren’t such inclusions on the DVD. Special features instead include five-plus minutes of deleted scenes, the movie’s trailer and an audio commentary track with Dillon, cinematographer Hanuman Brown-Eagle and… gaffer/gopher Jason Cantu!
This sounds weird, I realize, but that combination works, even if Dillon misidentifies his movie right out of the gate, calling it Fight Nights, plural. Not having the two leads, and in particular Neuenswander, robs the track of any sort of serious discussion or insight about the characters, or acting on display, but this trio have a lot of anecdotes to share about the film’s November-December 2005 Kansas shoot, and the fratty but not overly self-aggrandizing warmth of their reminiscences makes even a few barbed oblique asides (“If you can afford it, get an art department that brings you some options,” Dillon says at one point) sound not really that assholish, especially since they suffered arrests and other run-ins with the police due to filming without permits. Other tidbits gleaned? An important location house was once owned by Howard Hughes, and the car used in the film was a graduation gift from Dillon’s grandfather, with its trunk doubling as the production’s wardrobe storage. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) B- (Disc)