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Undisputed

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 09/07/02 12:27:04

"The most infuriating finale I've ever had to sit through."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

You've gotta hate it. For months we get all this fake press about how Wesley Snipes was letting Ving Rhames take real shots at him instead of pulling punches or using stand-ins during the boxing sequences of Undisputed, and after sitting through seventy minutes of this flick what does the big showdown actually show us? Two actors obscured by prison bars, people, cutaways and weird angles so that we never actually see one single punch connecting. oh sure, we see plenty of huffing and puffing, a little dodging and weaving, but not a single memorable punch hitting its mark, or even coming close. For a film that builds up to this climactic ending from the very first frame of the film, it's a monumental letdown on what, to that point, was seeming like a pretty good flick.

Ving Rhames is the heavyweight boxing champion of the world when he's banged up in a high security prison for a rape he claims he didn't commit (sound familiar?). In said prison, Wesley Snipes is a fellow inmate who hasn't been beaten in the boxing ring for ten years - since the day he went from contender to lifer. And in the middle of them both is Peter Falk, an aging mobster and boxing enthusiast who runs things in the big house and wants nothing more than to see these two bruisers pitted against one another.

As for the rest... it's build-up. That's the entire story - build-up. Every single scene, every character developed, it's all about this final fight - Ving vs Wesley. Who will win? Well, that's the only plot point that is really open to question. That's all. One plot point. One 'if'. One unknown factor - and it's a 50/50 shot either way.

Truth be told, it doesn't really matter much, because any halfway decent sports movie has this same thing going on. Rocky, Rudy, Slap Shot, The Natural, you name it - they all come down to the final twenty minutes. They all merely serve as the setting for that big showdown where what we knew was going to happen all along goes and happens.

So with that in mind, the real worth of a sports movie is in how it handles that last twenty minutes. In Rudy, it's handled superbly. In Major League, likewise. Hell, even in dreck like Kevin Costner's For Love of the Game, the final twenty minutes is as good as sports movies get.

Undisputed, on the other hand, not only drops the ball, but it stumble-kicks that ball towards it's own goalline, finally flopping down on it to concede a game-losing safety. The absolute infuriation that I felt when watching the final match between Rhames and Snipes actually caused me to yell "cut it the fuck out" at the screen, as if the editor could hear me and quit trying to block my view with whatever he could find lying around in the off-cuts reel. I wanted to see blood spilled. I wanted to see jaws flying to the side and fists driving into ribs, but all I saw was a parade of out of focus prison bars, the backs of heads, one-shots of the commentator (yes folks, they don't just have announcers at little league games in Hollywood, they have them in prison bare-knuckle boxing matches too) and the occasional overhead shot which might as well have the words "stand-ins" super-imposed over it. Simply put, if you're watching this movie to see a big showdown, you better stop watching before you get too sucked in.

As if I wasn't getting enough cliches as Undisputed roared towards it's whimpering finish, to see Michael "career asshole" Rooker playing the head of the prison guards was just the icing on the cake. I mean, why not have Joe Pantoliano playing the prison stoolie, or Keanu Reeves playing the guy that says "woah"?

If there is an upside to proceedings, it has to be Peter Falk's performance as the aging mob boss behind the match. Looking older than you've ever seen him (to the point where you wonder a few times if it's really him), Falk is superb from start to finish, bringing the only realistic character on offer to the table, without more than a handful of lines to his credit.

Though, as few lines as Falk's side-character gets, he still says more than Wesley Snipes. As Wesley grimmaces and grunts his way through proceedings, it almost looks like the producers were paying him by the word - and trying to cut their costs in the process.

A big, dark, smooth four-star movie demolished by a ridiculous one-star finish, Undisputed is one boxing movie that pugilism fans around the world will be better off steering clear of.

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