2009, Remarkable Films/Michael Mailer Films
Roy H. Wagner
Michael Jai White (Isaiah Bone)
Julian Sands (Franklin McVeigh)
Eamonn Walker (James)
Dante Basco (Pinball)
Nona Gaye (Tamara)
Michelle Belegrin (Angela)
Bob Sapp (Hammerman)
Dick Anthony Williams (Roberto)
Francis Capra (Tattoo)
Ron Yuan (Teddy D)
Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson (JC)
Gina Carano (Veretta)
Matt Mullins (Price)
Underground fight movies are turning out to be “a dime a dozen”, with most of them turning out to have inferior plots and most of the times, very abysmal fights. However, there are some rare exceptions to the case and this action-packed drama is one of those exceptions thanks to the performance of lead actor Michael Jai White.
White plays Isaiah Bone, an ex-convict who finds himself at a crossroads upon his release from prison. He soon finds himself involved with an underground fight circuit and is managed by trash-talking young hustler Pinball. When Bone proves himself to be a worthy fighter, he gains the attention of ruthless fight promoter James, who sees gold in the new fighter. Bone’s intentions, however, are not what they seem and in a bold twist, finds himself caught between his loyalty to Pinball and an opportunity to get more money with James. However, does Bone have something else in mind altogether?
For his second feature film as director, Ben Ramsey, who wrote the godawful Dragonbal: Evolution, to which he apologized, brings a case of redemption with the help of screenwriter Michael Andrews, a martial artist himself who had hopes to create a more honorable character that has a mission that no one, not even the viewer, knows about until the end of the second act. Andrews wished to create a “western”-like character and modernize the type to the world of underground fighting and who better than to bring the character to life than Michael Jai White.
For many years, White has showcased his martial arts skills in far inferior films when his career first started. However, until now, he had never taken the lead role in a martial arts action film because he always felt he did not want to star in just another mindless action film. Since then, White has showcased his acting skills in comedies and dramas, notably Tyson (1995), Spawn (1997), Ringmaster (1998) and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? (2008).
White does a spectacular job in the role of Isaiah Bone, because this is a character who is more than he appears to be as well as an amazing fighter. Bone is one of those honorable anti-hero types who may come off somewhat as a bad guy, only because he is an ex-convict. However, he has more good intentions and uses that to his full advantage. White is a holder of seven different black belts and uses his skills to his full potential. He has some of the most flowing aerial kicks that may not have that gymnast style to it in the form of Extreme Martial Arts, but when he pops up in the air, it looks like he is just floating once he unleashes his kicking skills.
Dante Basco, perhaps best known as the voice of the titular American Dragon: Jake Long on the 2005-2007 Disney series, hams it up to good effect as fight promoter and Bone’s potential buddy Pinball. He brings a performance that bears some resemblance to a young comedic John Leguizamo. The way he shoots off, if Leguizamo had taken the role of Pinball, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Eamonn Walker, best known for his role on the HBO series Oz, brings fear into some of the minor characters as rival fight promoter James, who proves to be quite the manipulator and virtually has a small group under his total control. When James doesn’t get his way, people either get seriously hurt or die. His main henchman, Teddy D, is played by martial artist and actor Ron Yuan, who doesn’t do much in the action department, yet like Pinball, really hams it up for the cameras reminding people of the Asian gangster-wannabe in the urban comedy How High (2001).
Julian Sands is given top billing for the film, but is highly underused in the role of Franklyn McVeigh, the biggest fight promoter in the city. He virtually brings nothing to the table with the exception of acting all smug towards James and others. While it is not uncommon to have the “big fight promoter” type make an impact in a film, Sands’ McVeigh doesn’t make an impact and quite frankly, is the biggest if only flaw of the film.
With the theme of “underground fighting”, one wonders how the action fares. Without a doubt, the fight sequences in this film are far superior to other fight flicks of late, due to the lack of use of too many close-ups and quick shaky cameras. Instead, the techniques shown are well executed both on a camera level as well as an editing level. Where A-list films such as Fighting (2009) and Never Back Down (2008) fail on the level of fighting, this film succeeds and makes the fighters of the cast look great. Kudos must go out to stunt coordinators J.J. Perry and Steve Upton as well as fight choreographer Fernando Chien for their nicely choreographed fight sequences.
Aside from White, a cast of real-life fighters make cameo appearances and make quite an impact. There’s Kevin Ferguson, known to the mixed martial arts world as Kimbo Slice, playing a prisoner who tries to kill Bone in the film’s opening sequence. Bob Sapp plays Hammer, James’ top fighter and fight circuit champion. Gina Carano plays a female fighter who shines in one fight scene and in a breathtaking fight scene, White is pitted against Extreme Martial Arts expert Matt Mullins. There is even an appearance from Bob Wall, who co-starred in Bruce Lee’s Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1972), as one of McVeigh’s men, aptly named “O’Hara” (after his character in the latter film).
For those who may have felt “gipped” with films such as Never Back Down, Fighting, and Never Surrender, prepare to meet your redeemer in Blood and Bone. Aside from the more superior martial arts fighting, the story brings more to the table than you expect and it helps that this is finally the movie that everyone has been waiting for Michael Jai White to take. Highly recommended.
WFG RATING: A