In a just universe, Ben Ramsey would not be known as “the guy who wrote that loathsome Dragonball movie where Tom Cruise’s kid from War of the Worlds plays Goku.” But we live in a cruel universe, so cruel in fact that Ramsey went and apologized this past May for having written it. But, as small a consolation as it may be, at least he will always be the director of Blood and Bone, a robust, no-nonsense direct-to-video transmission that functions primarily as an excuse to see grade-A ass-kicker Michael Jai White lay to waste a series of unsuspecting dudes. And while Ramsey proves to be a dependable hand behind the camera, his work alone simple cannot mask the stench of a script jumping through hoops to be “badass.”
The story might as well have been copied from a handbook: upon his release from prison, Bone (White) gets tangled up in the Los Angeles underground street fighting scene, in what has to be one of the more circuitous revenge plots in B-movie history. He partners up with squirrelly promoter Pinball (Dante Basco, of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Homestuck fame), makes a killing destroying all comers in what are functionally squash matches, and catches the eye of a mob boss named James (Eamonn Walker, Oz), who wants him to fight the international underground fighting champ. Oh, and the boss’ crack-addled girlfriend Angela (Michelle Belegrin, in a thankless one-note role) was married to Bone’s friend on the inside, who was framed for triple-homicide and murdered by an irate inmate played by Kimbo Slice (RIP). But this hollow, cliché-riddled plotting is par for the course for this kind of film, as is the film’s racist and homophobic streaks. For example, Julian Sands, who plays the head of the underground fighting consortium, has a scene with Walker where he says “African-American” repeatedly with a disconcerting amount of venom, thus evoking the unfortunate specter of ignorant 80s-era WWF booking. Case in point: ex-wrestler Ernest Miller, shows up as a hair curler-clad fighter named Mommie Dearest, billed by Pinball as the “homicidal homosexual,” among other un-PC epithets. Another fighter, the Hammerman (ex-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Bob Sapp), appears to be nothing more than a sentient lump of PCP, lured to the makeshift ring with a shot of God knows what to the arm and the promise of something he can fuck later. And, spoiler alert, Walker’s mob boss get his comeuppance during the credits via prison rape.
So much of Michael Andrews’ script is caked with similar bullshit edginess that it threatens to overshadow the excellent action photography contained in the film. While Ramsey doesn’t make White look as dynamic as, say, Isaac Florentine does in Undisputed II, he knows enough to let the motions and momentum of the fight sequences dictate the cuts. Ramsey doesn’t shy away from shooting wide or long, fully aware that White’s athleticism and technique is the star attraction. And White truly is an exceptional on-screen fighter, vicious and graceful in equal amounts. And even a scummy writer like Andrews is capable of an inspired violent gag, including one that culminates with cinema’s greatest use of Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days.” Some of the acting keeps the film afloat: Walker, all suave menace and quiet intensity in his role, performs with a precision and professionalism that this movie doesn’t always deserve. Basco, if anything, makers for an amusingly weaselly comic foil, clearly in over his head from the jump but perfectly willing to play the high-rolling tough guy when his proverbial golden goose comes along. And White, well, he’s a gifted fighter and can deliver his lines convincingly, and dammit, that’s all this type of programmer really needs.
Directed by Ben Ramsey; written by Michael Andrews; starring Michael Jai White, Eamonn Walker, Dante Basco, Michelle Belegrin, and Julian Sands; 93 minutes.