Confessions of a Pit Fighter
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Confessions of a Pit Fighter

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One movie theme that is always able to excite the audience is the underground club. Now I’m not talking about some nightclub in the seedier part of town where people go to knock back a few drinks and dance; this refers to illicit clubs where men fight often to the death for the pleasure of those in attendance. It’s the old ‘two men enter, one man leaves’ mentality that makes this the ultimate in extreme sports. It is not like this is anything new. The Romans made an art form out of the gladiatorial games a thousand years ago. In film it is one of the favorite themes for marital arts flicks. Actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme built an entire career out of movies like this. Perhaps the appeal lies in the forbidden nature of such a spectacle. Most people in the movie’s audience are decent, law abiding citizens who would never in their wildest dreams actually participate in such a thing; not that many would even be physically fit enough to last more than a few seconds. By watching a film of this nature those good people can take a couple of hours away from the work-a-day world and live vicariously in a dark and dangerous world. It is the most extreme form of the sweet science; boxing and we all know just how popular that sport is. In film these are usually ‘B’ flicks. They are made rather cheaply with a good deal of the budget going towards the numerous stunt men who are required. At its best this kind of film can be incredible. The bar was reset to a very high place after the 1999 David Fincher classic ‘Fight Club’. At its worse you have some sleazy flick with little or no discernable plot. Somewhere in the middle of this cinematic spectrum is the 2005 flick ‘Confessions of a Pit Fighter’. It is not the greatest film ever to grace the screen but it does make more than the usual effort to provide at least a bit more than a modicum of a story. The film did receive a domestic release back in 2005 and DVD releases in Japan and the Netherlands earlier this year. Lion’s Gate has now provided a region one DVD for those in the States who enjoy a good extreme fight flick. It is not that this is a great film but it isn’t something that will make you want to walk out on it either. It comes very close to succeeding in what it set out to do; make a fight film that provides the necessary action.

The film was written by R. Ellis Frazier and Art Camacho. This is an initial outing as both writer and producer for Frazier. Camacho is well known in the world of stunt men as one of the top fight choreographers in the business. If you want to stage a realistic fight and make sure the actors and stunt men remain healthy he is your man. The films he has acted in tend to have titles like ‘Death Match’, ‘Bloodfist’ and ‘’Fist of Iron’. Many managed to have one or more sequels. Camacho not only worked as fight choreographer on these films he held down parts in them as an actor. He has also written about a half dozen such films, produced many of them and directed about a dozen. In short, this is a man who knows this specific genre of movies. If any attempt is to be made to provide a story for this type of movie it would most likely come from someone who is familiar with the genre. Camacho has that experience and with his writing partner does better than most in this department. It is a story that has been played out many times before and certainly will be resurrected again. A down and dirty fighter tries his best to leave that life of violence and ever looming death behind. Due to circumstances beyond his control he is pulled back in; of course for honorable reasons. This sets him apart from his adversaries. They are evil and he is fighting for good. This polarization is classic and continues to enthrall audiences. Throw in a younger brother about to make the same mistakes as he did a slick but sleazy fight promoter and a comic relief sidekick and you have yourself a flick.

As a director Camacho has come a long way from his earlier flicks; like many out there I have seen a few of them. He still needs to work on the pacing. There are interruptions to the flow of the narrative with fights that seem to pop up out of nowhere with little rational. The film is well edited by Chris McGuinness which does help to overcome this misstep. At some points McGuinness appears to be trying too hard to provide quick cuts. This gives a choppy feel to some segments of the film. The cinematography by Curtis Petersen is very good. He never allows the style to overwhelm the substance presenting a film that is visually interesting to view. There is a lot of potential in this talented crew. There is also an interested choice in the cast of this movie. I never would imagine a film that stared both Armand Assante, one of the most stable and hardworking actors and Flavor Flav. You might think that the casting director was on some sort of psychotropic drug to come up with this pairing. Actually, I have to admit that old Flav demonstrated more than a little bit of acting chops. Considering he is currently known as a washed up eighties rapper with a so called reality dating show on VH1 this may come as a surprise to most out there. The real treat here is James Russo in the lead role. He has a long resume in this genre as well as many other types of films. He was even in ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’; naturally as a tough guy. Besides is expertise in staged fights he is a real actor. Since this is an action flick that is character driven this fact is vital.

Eddie Castillo (Russo) is trying to live a quite, unassuming life. He has spent more than a few years in the State prison and now wants little more than to leave that whole world behind. Now that he is freed he moves in with his younger brother David (Ricardo Medina Jr.). When they were younger David idolized his brother and strove to be just like him. Eddie is more than a little upset when he discovers that David has followed too closely in his footsteps. He has become involved with illegal pit fighting. It was a death in this type of venue that led Eddie to a prison sentence. Eddie wants to pull David out but there are complications. The people behind the matches, lead by a man named Argento (Armand Assante) are powerful and making too much money on the illicit endeavor. When David is killed in a fight Eddie has to try to put a stop to the fight club and find his brother’s killer.

In general the film holds together and will intrigue the audience. The fights are more realistic than the wire works battles common to Asia action movies. This is down and dirty action and although the plot is common it comes across as a new slant. Lion’s Gate does do a great job in finding little independent films like this. The reported budget was a about $2.5 million and considering this restriction the result is very good.

Posted 10/19/08

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