Apocalypto) is Brandon, a salt of the earth kind of guy and one tough bastard. How tough, you ask? Get this: his dad is Danny Trejo. Need we say more? Capitalising on this toughness, Brandon is an underground prize fighter, with his flaky brother serving as manager. But when his brother is mugged and murdered, he leaves behind nothing but some sizeable gambling debts; money which the local ponytailed shark is none-too delicate in requesting from the recently bereaved. In need of a place to hide, Brandon swiftly exits the big city and heads out to the obscure backwoods farm town that his estranged father calls home, and finds work as a labourer. But wouldn't you know it, turns out there's a bit of an underground fight club scene down in Hicksville too, which Brandon is quick to make himself part of. And there is much drama to follow, both in and out of the octagon.Rudy Youngblood (best known for sprinting through the jungle, speaking a dead language and brutally killing his enemies in the phenomenal
Coming from the producers of Circle of Pain, an endearingly braindead microbudget MMA movie, Beatdown follows much the same MO, which seems to indicate these kind of DTV fight flicks are here to stay. However, this film has a somewhat stronger emphasis on plot and character, as indicated by the higher calibre cast. By comparison with the outright trashiness of Circle of Pain, Beatdown is a relatively more upmarket affair.
Bear in mind I did say relatively.
Apocalypto didn't exactly launch Rudy Youngblood in Hollywood, but on this evidence he's certainly got the chops to pull off being a leading man. Almost makes you feel sorry for the guy having to take on so bog-standard a production as this. Credit where it's due, there are real efforts made to craft layered character relationships, principally Brandon's difficult relationship with his father and his burgeoning romance with local girl Erin (Susie Abromeit, pictured with Youngblood), and all actors involved give it their all. It's also a pleasant surprise to find that Eric Balfour, hitherto more familiar in nerdy roles in 24 and the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, actually makes for a pretty decent tough guy, as Erin's overprotective brother and the reigning local fight champion. He has a couple of decent fight scenes, including one against Circle of Pain's Heath Herring, who thankfully they were smart enough not to give any lines to this time.
However, just when you think they've ensured they only cast real actors in this movie, up pops Michael 'The Count' Bisping (pictured second left). And straight away the question arises: what the hell were they thinking? Yes, he's an internationally renowned MMA fighter with experience in front of the camera thanks to his time on The Ultimate Fighter, but he's also got the thickest Lancashire accent you're ever likely to hear; so thick that The Ultimate Fighter tended to subtitle him! Sure, he's not the first guy with a distinctly un-American accent to break into American action movies, and he does make for a credible enough hard case, but when surrounded by Texans there's no way he can't stick out like a sore thumb and prompt unintentional laughs, even if he is given backstory as a one time superstar pro-fighter who, not unlike Brandon, is forced by circumstance to hide out in buttfuck nowhere. Not that what these guys get up to could exactly be called keeping a low profile, as together they conspire to elevate Brandon to the top of the fight food chain, where the big money is.
Along the way we have plenty of the obligatory training montages and street brawls, generally set to rap metal songs in which the vocalists scream about how they're gonna knock you out motherfucker, bring the shit and smash yo' face in the ground, and so on and so forth. Oh, and near enough every fight begins with a punch to the face that sends the recipient's head flying sideways in slo-mo, accompanied by a spray of blood from the mouth. Which gets old rather fast. Also quick to get tiresome are the incessant, gratuitous camera and editing effects: rapid cuts, focus pulls, lens flare, quick cross fades, anything to pass the time when things get a bit dull. I don't know if first time director Marc Gunther (formerly a stunt co-orinator and second unit director) is trying to be a microbudget Michael Bay, but while the tricks he employs may have been intended to keep the viewer interested, they tend to only make proceedings more tedious and silly.
Clearly the hope was there for Beatdown to work as a real movie, and maybe with higher production values it might have. An improved script wouldn't have hurt; the mafia confrontations which bookend the main action have very little bearing on the core of the film, and again only serve to make the film that bit sillier. Certainly it's nowhere near as silly an MMA movie as Circle of Pain, but then perhaps that isn't necessarily a good thing; with these kind of straight-to-DVD affairs, oftentimes the sillier it is the better. But MMA fans may well find plenty to enjoy.
Beatdown is released on Region 2 DVD on the 14th March 2011, from Chelsea Films.