American Fighter (USA, 2021)

A young man goes to great lengths to save his mother in this sequel to American Wizard: The Wrestler, loosely based on the true story of one of the film’s producers.

In 1981, Ali Jahani, having won the high school wrestling championship, is now in college. His parents, stuck in Iran, have been victimized due to the turmoil there. Ali’s father is killed, and his mother is suffering bad from cancer. Ali has been desperate for her mother to come to the United States for treatments. When the immigration office refuses to help, Ali’s friend Pasha turns to a private contractor, Mr. V, who demands $30,000 to help bring Ali’s mother to the U.S.

When Ali is called derogatory names by a teammate, Ali resorts to punching his teammate and his friend Ryan is impressed. Ryan introduces Ali to the world of underground fighting. The local underground fights are run by McClellan. When Ali starts to win his fights, he lets the winning get to his head. When McClellan sets Ali up with supreme fighter Bas, Ali loses all of his money when he’s beaten. Washed-up ex-fighter Duke, who knows of the setup, decides to take Ali under his wing and sets up a rematch with Bas in hope that Ali will get his head straight and be able to make back all he’s lost and get more to get his mom to the United States.

Loosely based on the life of actor/producer Ali Afshar, this sequel to American Wizard: The Wrestler continues the story of Iranian immigrant Ali Jahani, reprised by George Kosturos. This time around, Ali is in college and the film takes a sort of Karate Kid/Never Back Down vibe when Ali is introduced to the world of underground fighting, or rather, bare knuckle brawling. Kosturos gives off a really good performance, showcasing a series of emotions when it comes to both his mother and the world of fighting. He goes from letting his ego getting the best of him to eating humble pie when he loses everything only to get his one shot at redemption.

Tommy Flanagan is wonderful in the role of the unscrupulous promoter McClellan, who brings up Ali upon his arrival until he reveals his true nature when it comes to getting Ali a major fight. Sean Patrick Flanery is excellent in the role of former fighter Duke, who has some past demons that he needs to face and becomes Ali’s mentor in his journey to redemption, finding it within himself along the way. Bryan Craig provides excellent support as Ryan, Ali’s best friend who is a former underground fighter himself and helps him by returning to the ring.

Producer Afshar and Noel Vega served as the film’s stunt coordinators with Afshar’s wrestling skills coming in handy while Vega also served as the fight choreographer. Some of the fighters in the film have a well-rounded martial arts background. We even get to see co-star Flanery use his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills while training Ali. The biggest competition is Bas (perhaps a nod to MMA legend Bas Rutten), played by actor and stuntman Eddie Davenport, who is sporting some particular sidechops of a certain Canadian Marvel hero (and he was that actor’s stunt double in 2017).

American Fighter is a modern day 80’s-style B-movie based on the real-life story of Ali Afshar. An excellent cast and some pretty good fight scenes make this worth watching.

WFG RATING: B+

Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment presents a ESX Films production. Director: Shawn Piccinino. Producers: Ali Afshar, Christina Moore, and Anna Zielinski. Writers: Brian Rudnick, Carl Morris, and Shawn Piccinino. Cinematography: Reuben Steinberg. Editing: Brett Hedlund.

Cast: George Kosturos, Tommy Flanagan, Bryan Craig, Sean Patrick Flanery, Allison Paige, Eddie Davenport, Parviz Sayyad, Salome Azizi, Vince Hill-Bedford, Tony Pasha Panterra, Kevin Porter.

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