Fantastic Fest 2016 Review: BOYKA: UNDISPUTED Brings the Pain, In and Outside the Ring
Scott Adkins brings redeemed Russian MMA fighter Yuri Boyka back to the screen for the third time, delivering another helping of blistering bloody bouts of carefully choreographed carnage. Outside the ring, director Todor Chapkanov fails to complement the action with a solid narrative or naturalistic dialogue, but fans of the Undisputed series won’t care one bit. For the late-night action crowd, Boyka: Undisputed is a knockout.
Picking up some years after the events in Undisputed III: Redemption, we catch up with the world’s most complete fighter in Kiev, still honing his trade for cash on the underground fight circuit. Boyka (Adkins) has found religion, donating all of his winnings to a local church, but the demons of his past sins continue to haunt him. When he accidentally kills his opponent in the ring, during a qualifying match for a top tier European contest, Boyka seeks out his opponent’s widow in the hope of laying his demons to rest.
Plot comes a distant second to spectacle in Boyka: Undisputed, a franchise that has morphed from its original entry even more than the Fast & Furious series. Walter Hill’s 2002 original was a straight-up boxing flick starring Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames, before its sequel became a vehicle for martial artist Michael Jai White. Under the stewardship of Israeli action director Isaac Florentine, the series focused increasingly on mixed martial arts, and specifically the changing fortunes of villain Yuri Boyka.
Adkins and Florentine’s relationship has blossomed ever since, evolving through the Undisputed and Ninja series into one of the most exciting collaborations in action cinema today. While Florentine serves only as producer here on part 4, anyone familiar with his work will see his fingerprints all over Boyka: Undisputed’s electrifying fight sequences. There is a fluidity, pace and realism at work that will frequently make audiences forget that what they are watching isn’t a genuine UFC throw down. Adkins, who recently turned 40, has never looked better or faster, spinning in the air like a pirouetting alley cat, before unleashing unholy hell on his adversaries in a volley of bone-crunching kicks and punches.
The film is undeniably let down by what occurs outside of the ring. Finding himself back in Russia, Boyka is not only constantly avoiding the authorities - he is an escaped convict let’s not forget - but also angers local mob boss Zourab (Alon Aboutboul), who has his eye on beautiful widow Alma (Teodora Duhovnikova). While she initially spurns Boyka’s confession and offer of penance in the form of charitable support, she inevitably warms to our gruff anti-hero. Sadly, David White’s script has little notion of nuance or subtlety, while Chapkanov’s direction always feels like it’s killing time until the next fight.
Featuring a host of formidable adversaries, including Brahim Achabbakhe and the towering presence of Martyn Ford, Boyka: Undisputed may not match the all-round package of its predecessor, Undisputed III: Redemption, which remains far and away the pinnacle of the series, but is packed full of enough high-kicking, face-pummelling action and deadpan deliveries to ensure we have not seen the last of Yuri Boyka.