To say that Isaac Florentine's Undisputed 3: Redemption is, in my opinion, the best of the Undisputed series may be meaningful to those who know the earlier films but will probably not count for much for those who have brushed them aside because they have all been released straight to video. So let me put it this way. Undisputed 3 is a wildly entertaining piece of action cinema, one that takes all the best elements of the 1980s beefcake era without being precious or coy about them and then matches those elements with some of the finest martial arts choreography I've seen in an American backed film in at least a decade. Is it a B-film? Oh, absolutely, but it is brilliantly B, a film that knows exactly what it is, is smart enough to play to its own strengths and executes near flawlessly.
Scott Adkins reprises his role as Russian inmate Boyka, now severely hobbled by the knee injury suffered at the end of Undisputed 2. No longer the feared prison fighter he was, he has declined so far that he is now good only for cleaning toilets. But when a new prison fight tournament begins - an international affair, matching the best fighters from prisons around the globe, enticing them with the promise of freedom for the winner - Boyka must reclaim his dignity and fight for his position in the tournament.
He succeeds, of course, and is packed off to Georgia where he meets his opponents. The brash American. The Brazilian capoeira expert. The North Korean tae kwon do expert. A Greek. A Croat. And, most to be feared, the Colombian.
The fix is in, of course. While all of the other fighters are forced to do hard labor, the Colombian - the fighter backed by the host prison - is left to live in relative luxury. While the others are denied basic food, the Colombian has drugs hand delivered by the warden.
If you've ever seen a tournament film, you know how this works. Undisputed 3 does nothing that hasn't been done story-wise many, many times. But with this sort of format it's not about novelty it's about execution and Florentine executes remarkably well. The character work is strong enough, the pace is crisp, the script throws in just enough moments of humor to let us know that all involved realize exactly what sort of film they're making, and Adkins plays Boyka - the villain of the last installment - here as a gruff antihero looking for personal redemption. All the story stuff works as it should.
Which brings us to the area where the film truly excels. The fighting.
Florentine here has a cast loaded with international fighters of the highest caliber. Adkins has never received the sort of recognition and respect he deserves for his work but this should go a long way towards remedying that. He is a powerful physical presence on screen, enormously talented, and capable of moving in ways that a man his size simply should not be able to move. Playing against him are a number of familiar faces, notably Lateef Crowder - you know him from Tom Yum Goong / The Protector - as the Brazilian fighter and Chile's Marko Zaror as evil Colombian fighter Dolor.
As much recognition as Adkins deserves for his quiet charisma as Boyka, Zaror deserves every bit as much for his deliciously camp performance - his first ever in English - as Dolor. With his eyes bugging out, a leering grin ever at the ready, and dance steps thrown into his training sequences for no particular reason other than that evil likes to dance, Zaror must have been spitting splinters for weeks from the amount of scenery he chews in this film. This is an entirely new side to Zaror as a performer and he is just hugely entertaining as an actor here. But he's even more entertaining as a fighter.
Remember the name of fight choreographer Larnell Stovall. Because I think you'll be hearing it a lot in the coming years. He is the real thing. Absolutely, one hundred percent world class. No wires. No trickery. Just a full out assault of brutal, epic fight work that showcases each and every one of his performers beautifully. Stovall clearly knew exactly what he had in Crowder, Zaror and Adkins and he pushes all three of them to do some of their best work. Adkins is alarmingly acrobatic for a man of his size, as is Zaror, and when the two of them finally meet in the ring the result is everything that you could possibly hope for - a fight that exploits size, power, technique and acrobatics before arriving at one of the more memorable endings of recent days. And, of course, Stovall's work work have been for nothing if not well filmed and Florentine proves again that he is one of the absolute best directors on the planet when it comes to shooting action.
Undisputed 3 is a movie that knows exactly what it is and, more importantly, exactly what it should be. And that's exactly what it delivers. One hundred percent entertainment.
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