REVIEW: The Great Fight (2011)

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An autistic teen learns to channel his inner anger through mixed martial arts with his teacher learning his own life lessons in this indie drama from director Sherri Kauk.

Nick Tantino is a police officer and martial arts instructor who due to his unorthodox nature has been relegated to working as a security guard at a local high school in New Jersey. It doesn’t help that local prosecutor Zane Carroll has been making Nick’s life a living hell since he stole Nick’s ex-wife from him. To make things even more worse, Nick’s martial arts school is in danger of closing and Zane, a martial arts teacher himself, wants the school.

However, Nick’s life is soon about to change when he meets Anthony Rodriguez, an autistic teen who has been prone to violence. When Felix Sanchez, a local bully, harasses Anthony during gym class, Anthony pummels Felix only to be in danger of being expelled. Nick, however, makes a proposition to help Anthony channel his anger through learning mixed martial arts. Zane, who is Felix’s teacher, is not happy and has his student challenge Anthony to a fight. As Nick and Anthony slowly begin to bond, Zane intends to do what it takes to ruin Nick’s reputation once and for all. When it comes to the day of the fight, who will prevail and what will be learned?

This film is quite an interesting indie drama that emphasizes more on the spirit of martial arts as well as learning about autism in addition to learning some life lessons. Kenneth Del Vecchio wrote and produced the film that revolves around a police officer and martial arts teacher who has his world turned upside down due to the actions of his arch-nemesis, a ruthless lawyer who just also happens to be a martial arts teacher but gets a positive uplifting by taking on an autistic savant as his latest student.

Real-life martial artist and former police officer Frank Giglio brings a natural performance in the role of Nick Tantino, our hero cop/teacher who himself learns a thing or two while training his new student. The big surprise comes in the form of Miguel Jarquin-Moreland in the role of autistic teen Anthony. The role is quite convincing while Eric Etebari truly brings a performance worthy of “biggest scumbag of the Earth” as ruthless lawyer and rival martial arts teacher Zane Carroll, whose sole purpose in the film is to make Nick’s life a living hell.

A few Hollywood veterans make the rounds and give out such great support in the film, three of them being on Nick’s side and the other a neutral party. Former Three’s Company co-star Joyce DeWitt and former Howard Stern sidekick Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling play Nick’s fellow officers who seem to be his only allies before he takes on Anthony, forging a bond not only with him but his sister as well. Robert Loggia provides some much needed comic relief in the form of friend and psychologist Salvatore Reno, who goes beyond unleashing an expletive every chance he can but taps into what makes Anthony snap and the result is quite surprising. Finally, there’s Charles Durning, who plays a judge who oversees the court proceedings between Nick and Zane when it comes to legality. Sensei Kreese himself, Martin Kove, stars as Zane’s spiritual coach, who attempts to calm him down when needed while doing some not too moral things himself.

While the fight scenes are clearly not on the level of some of today’s great action films, the film doesn’t need a truly great fight, but rather invoke the spirit of martial arts as a way of channeling anger, bringing that vibe that may bring the likes of The Karate Kid and Never Back Down to mind. The titular “great fight” has actually a few meanings ultimately, with the actual fight being what one may not expect but also about the “fight inside”, with Nick and Anthony ultimately learning to fight past their issues and doing so together as teacher and student.

The Great Fight is a drama-driven film that invokes the martial spirit while engaging the viewer in learning about autism and perhaps learning about fighting past issues head on. Some great performances from both veterans and newcomers make this worth at least a watch.

WFG RATING: B+

A Justice for All production. Director: Sherri Kauk. Producer: Kenneth Del Vecchio. Writer: Kenneth Del Vecchio. Cinematography: Sherri Kauk and Rob Weber. Editing: Cassandra McManus.

Cast: Frank Giglio, Eric Etebari, Miguel Jarquin-Moreland, Suzy Kaye, Joyce DeWitt, Jackie Martling, Charles Durning, Robert Loggia, Angela Little, Kenneth Del Vecchio, Felipe Dieppa

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