Rated: R for strong language Reviewed by: Jim Release date: May 9, 2008 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
Playwright David Mamet does his "Roundhouse of Games" in his latest, an intriguing, yet ultimately underwhelming Redbelt.
This sports melodrama knows how to prevail in the director/scenarist's mindset and background in jiu-jitsu. Mental domination is prevalent, especially in his most memorable plays, like "Glengarry Glen Ross", or films, like The Spanish Prisoner.
The rhythmic line readings permeate the against-the-odds scenario in the orbital pressure of mixed-martial arts and ultimate fighting in Los Angeles.
Here, the main character, Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor of Talk To Me and Dirty Pretty Things), is driven not by emotions to prove something to himself or loved ones, but the philosophy of jiu-jitsu which he teaches with his moral platitudes and unflappable serenity.
Yet, the appealing, warmly intense Mike, in his rather sacred approach, has set himself up for financial difficulties as he works out of a small studio in a seedier section of the city.
A shattered front window from an inadvertent gunshot, courtesy of a high-strung attorney (Emily Mortimer) and an off-duty cop (Max Martini), triggers interlocking events that put Mike into a position that threatens his calming mantra.
Ejiofor fills Mike with quite a charismatic asceticism who has to deal with the sound, if troublesome advice from his fabric designing wife Sondra (Alice Braga). Will Mike "know the escape" from the likes of aging, cynical film actor Chet Frank, a surprisingly good Tim Allen, a loan shark (David Paymer), and a slippery fight promoter (Mamet regular Ricky Jay)?
When Mike does "let the wheel come around" the chance of a rebound quickly leads into the impromptu climactic televised championship match. But, he was in line as a co-producer with the help of Frank, whose wife (Mamet's real-life missus Rebecca Pidgeon) had taken Sondra under her wing on a new clothing line.
Mamet knows how to let his characters speak for themself as he has the ability to draw together folks of varying socio-economic groups in some individually charged scenes. Yet, the sum of the parts turns out to be too hackneyed, even with a strong presence in Ejiofor, as well as rash and passe considering the unconventional outcome.