Mixed Martial Arts outlet Tapout makes a big improvement over the recent films starring Hector Echavarria and replaces him with former world karate champion turned action star Tony Schiena in a film that has a familiar theme: the comeback of a retired fighter.
Dalton Hunt is a former fighter for the Revolution Fight Club, or RFC, based in Texas. Having long retired after accidentally crippling his best friend Wyatt during a sparring session, Dalton still feels the guilt. However, when RFC owner Victoria Ruolan informs Dalton that he has one more fight in his contract, Dalton learns his opponent is current RFC Champion Colin “The Brick” Wahle.
With the help of Wyatt and former trainer Willy, Dalton must not only prepare physically, but mentally prepare for the big fight in two months’ time. However, as he trains, Dalton gets a dose of reality when he learns that it is his guilt that is holding him back. With Willy’s help, Dalton faces the challenge head on and trains hard. Meanwhile, Victoria has other plans and only sees her company as a money maker and hatches a plan to ensure that Dalton gets demolished when he faces “The Brick” Wahle.
After getting perhaps seeing all the negativity behind the Hector Echavarria MMA-films like Never Surrender and Death Warrior, it was time to go practically back to basics and while Echavarria nearly redeemed himself but just fell short with Unrivaled, it was time to bring in some new blood. One of the biggest problems involving Echavarria’s films were that they were borderline half-action, half-softcore erotica. It is as if the softcore erotica portions were too much of a distraction from the action, which proved to be true. There is a bit of gratuitous nudity and softcore like action in this film, but not to the effect where it will distract the martial arts action of the film. It is done just a little more tastefully here.
Replacing Echavarria as the protagonist is former world karate champion Tony Schiena, who has worked with the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Vinnie Jones. Schiena does well here as former MMA fighter Dalton Hunt, who finds himself on the comeback trail and knows it is not as easy as many would think. While he physically focuses, it is clearly his mental focus that is missing. In a great flashback scene, we learn he accidentally kicked his best friend in the spine, crippling him. While his friend, played with a little comic relief at times by Dean Cain, has forgiven him, it is Dalton who has not forgiven himself. The film clearly shows him attempting to move on and train hard for his fight.
While Dean Cain acts like the comical sidekick at times, Bai Ling brings a vindictive performance as RFC owner Victoria Ruolan. We learn that Dalton was friends with her father, the company’s founder. She only sees the company as clearly a moneymaker and uses a sense of seductive nature to get what she wants. Victoria is clearly similar to a succubus who will do anything to get her way. Louis Hartham does well as Dalton’s friend and mentor Willy, who becomes more of a father figure than a trainer as he attempts to help Dalton prepare for the fight.
As with the previous Tapout films, the cover art always tends to be misleading. However, the supporting cast consists of real-life MMA fighters once again. This time around, Heath “The Crazy Texas Horse” Herring plays the champion and antagonist, Colin Wahle. The look of Herring here is reminiscent of Mr. T’s famous Clubber Lang character in Rocky III. Perhaps the producers were attempting to make this a loose remake of that very film and spice it up with the whole evil promoter gimmick who knows. Kimbo Slice, Roger Huerta, and Frank Mir all appear and despite their top billing on the cover art, only have small roles.
This time around, the fight choreography is done by veteran stuntman and martial arts actor Arnold Chon. Chon does well in terms of bringing MMA and executes it well with some decent slow motion use and long shot use. Unlike the previous MMA films, there aren’t too many extreme close ups and quick edits. In fact, there are times when there are double and at one point a triple angle shot used. Clearly Chon knows how to utilize MMA on screen and pull it off well here.
In the end, Circle of Pain is clearly a big improvement over Tapout’s previous films. With a good lead like Tony Schiena and an able-bodied fight choreographer who knows what he is doing based on his experiences, this is truly one of the better MMA action dramas and like the previous titles, do not let the DVD cover art mislead you. This is an enjoyable action film for what it offers.
WFG RATING: B-
Lionsgate Films present a Legacy Filmworks production. Director: Daniel Zirilli. Producers: Deboragh Gabler, Michael Z. Gordon, and Sean Patrick O’Reilly. Writer: Bobby Mort; story by Mort, Daniel Zirilli, and Sean Patrick O’Reilly. Cinematography: Jonathan Scott. Editing: Kelly Morris.
Cast: Tony Schiena, Dean Cain, Bai Ling, Heath Herring, Louis Herthum, Shannon Lepard, Talise Zirilli, John Edward Lee, Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson, Frank Mir, Miguel Torres, Jace Jeanes, Roger Huerta.