Undisputed

Undisputed is a strange film, its almost a straight to video copy of Rocky copies such as Penitentiary and the like, save for its cast who are some of Hollywood’s current hot talents (and Peter Falk).  Directed by Walter Hill, who has being making action films for many years, is a director who strives to make original films but always seems to fall victim to the Studios who want something that will be more mainstream, which seems the case again with Undisputed.

Monroe Hutchen (Wesley Snipes) is currently being incarcerated for a crime of passion that resulted in murder. The only passion that he has left is boxing behind bars and as the current Sweetwater Prison champion for the last few years, without a single loss, he’s the top of his game.

James ‘Iceman’ Chambers (Ving Rhames) is the world heavy weight champion of the world who is recently convicted of rape (the character and situation inspired more than a little obviously by the misadventures of Mike Tyson). Unsurprisingly he is sent to Sweetwater to serve his sentence which has the aforementioned boxing program and champion.

A showdown between Iceman and Hutchen is inevitable, especially when aging Mafioso, Emmanuel Ripstein (Peter Falk), who has influences beyond the prison walls takes an interest. Ripstein, or Mendy, as he’s more commonly known is a hige fight fan and he takes the prevailing opinion that the two champions must battle it out to become the one true prison champion.

With contacts in Vegas, Mendy arranges odds and also makes sure that both champions are unfettered by any sort of foul play befalling them beforehand. He also arranges a purse of sorts for both fighters.

With the lead prison guard (Michael Rooker) left to organise the fight date and to coordinate the training of the two fighters, the fight builds momentum. With both boxers in training and with the date approaching fast, the anticipation reaches fever pitch levels – who will be the undisputed champion of the world?

With a wafer thin plot, the cast doesn’t have a lot to work with. Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames are very believable in the ring and the action sequences are superb with fast editing and a real feel of being in the ring with the fighters. Snipes dependable as ever, but in all honesty doesn’t have a lot of character depth to play with. Rhames on the other hand coasts through doing his best Tyson impression and seems to have fun with it. The allusions of Tyson are very strong throughout the film.

Peter Falk is superb as the aging Mafioso gangster who is more interested in seeing a fair fight than making any rigged bets. His stand out moment is a speech just littered with vulgar swearing, very un-Colombo like.

Walter Hill seems to have been going for a film that explores the life of two very different men who find redemption through boxing and also a critical and semi-satirical look at boxing as a profession – one where even convicted criminals are hailed as heroes. Unfortunately much of these aspects have been removed by Miramax, the studio behind Undisputed, and what is left is a soul-less B-movie about boxing with a great cast. Always a victim of studio cuts Walter Hill has removed his name of his projects before most notably Supernova. Unfortunately the final release leaves us with very little characterisations and a cliché ridden boxing film.

The one saving grace is that there is no hero, since Hutchen is convicted of murder and Iceman of rape. This is a key strength as it derives the audience of any sort of favourite resulting in a finale that either boxer could win – this is no Rocky where we all know who’s going to win in the end. Shame it isn’t the audience really.

SCORE 4/10

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