The world of bare-knuckled fighting gets the female treatment in this action-drama that can be said to combine a “Lifetime Movie of the Week” with the tournament fight genre. However, overall, the film is a well-made straight to video effort thanks in part of the lead actress’ performance.
The film revolves around Samantha Rogers, a single mother of a disabled child who works days as a movie stuntwoman and nights as a bartender to make ends meet. One night, a fight at a bar leads to a meeting with Sonny Cool, a hustler who is looking for a new fighter to compete in bare knuckle brawling. When Samantha begins to fight, she proves her mettle and begins to slowly earn money while bartending, pleasing her mother. However, when Sonny has Samantha fight Mona (Bridgett Riley), the champion fighter for Sonny’s ex-partner Nedish, the upstart finds herself badly hurt.
Deciding to get out of the fight world, Samantha lives her regular life again. That is, until Sonny returns with a proposition. An upcoming tournament, “The Show” is being held where the winner will take home $250,000 plus a percentage of all winning bets in the finals. Determined that she will compete, Samantha prepares herself for the tournament with the help of Sonny’s friends Al and former bare knuckles champion Flame. With Mona the heavy favorite to win, will Samantha have what it takes to overcome the odds and win the tournament?
When it comes to Lifetime Movies of the Week, guys will have a tendency to get turned off when it comes to sappy dramas about women going through problems such as infidelity, murder, struggling, and so on. However, what will attract the guys here is that this is not a Lifetime movie, but rather a straightforward action drama that involves a fight ring and one woman’s struggle to make it to help take care of her disabled daughter. What will amaze even more fans is that this film is based on true events of the star of the film, Jeanette Roxborough.
Roxborough is a stuntwoman and fighter who in real-life would do anything for her real-life daughter Teya. The film’s director, Eric Etebari (who is also an actor, appearing as villain Zane in the indie MMA drama The Great Fight), was a friend of Roxborough’s who helped her get her story for the film. While the motive has a slight change from real-life to celluloid, the dramatic tension Roxborough brings as struggling mother Samantha is well done and she works well with veteran Martin Kove, who plays hustler Sonny Cool with a performance resembling Terrence Howard’s hustler role in Fighting.
What is very interesting is that Sonny is not just a manager of sorts to Samantha, but with the help of friends and trainers Al and Flame, played well by Chris Mulkey and Spice Williams-Crosby, they treat the upstart as a little sister type. While they fear they may not get Samantha ready in time for the tournament, she proves her mettle and earns the respect of those close to her.
Louis Mandylor brings in an evil performance as the “scumbag” Nedish. He is seen as a manipulator who sees a threat and decides that he must take advantage to insure his champion/girlfriend will win “The Show”. As the film goes on, it is revealed that four years ago, he was involved in double-crossing Sonny and had a fighter go to the hospital as a “vegetable”.
While Roxborough gets to show her stuff in the ring, a worthy opponent is needed to create the ring chemistry and make the fights look good. Enter champion kickboxer and fellow stuntwoman Bridgett “Baby Doll” Riley, who plays Nedish’s lover and champion fighter Mona. Riley is a veteran both in and out of the ring as a world kickboxing champion and respectable stuntwoman who has had her share of fight time on screen in films like Triple Threat and the Power Rangers series. Riley brings her A-game as the lethal Mona, not so much as a crass and cocky fighter, but one who has that sense of bringing fear into her opponents. The ring sequences, done by stunt coordinator Annie Ellis, brings back a style reminiscent of 80’s American martial arts films, but edited pretty well.
While many may see this as another boring direct-to-DVD action film, Bare Knuckles truly has what makes this brand of genre work, a healthy mix of drama and decent fight sequences. Guys will definitely like either the martial arts or the eye candy (or both) while the ladies will like the Lifetime-style real drama. The film is definitely worth at least a rental.
WFG RATING: B
An Etebari Enterprises production. Director: Eric Etebari. Producers: Alison Richards and Moe Grunberg. Writer: Robert Redlin. Cinematography: George Reasner. Editing: Chris Arnold and Charles T. Jones.
Cast: Jeanette Roxborough, Martin Kove, Chris Mulkey, Spice Williams-Crosby, Louis Mandylor, Bridgett Riley, Teya Roxborough, Dana Reed, Miranda Kwok, Crystal Santos, Eric Etebari, Sadie Alexandru.