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Sunday, May 5, 2013

CONFESSIONS OF A PIT FIGHTER -- movie review by porfle

(This review originally appeared online at in 2008.)

My only previous experience with writer-director Art Camacho was with CROOKED (aka SOFT TARGET). The difference between that subpar effort and CONFESSIONS OF A PIT FIGHTER (2005) is, in a word, vast. Strangely enough, CONFESSIONS was made before CROOKED, so the theory of evolution doesn't seem to apply here. I can only guess that Camacho's talent really runs hot and cold, and he was on a hot streak when he made this above-average fight flick.

That isn't to say that CONFESSIONS is a great piece of cinema, by any means. But compared to CROOKED, it's practically LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. As the story opens, a pit fighter named Eddie (Hector Echavarria) lands in prison for beating a guy to death. When he's paroled after seven years, older and wiser, he finds that his younger brother David (Ricardo Medina Jr.) is headed down the same path and tries to talk him out of it. Too late--David is killed by a towering brute named Matador, who fights for local mob big shot Argento (Armand Assante).

As we know will inevitably happen, Eddie decides to re-enter the world of pit fighting in order to both avenge David's death and to earn money for David's pregnant girlfriend Angel (Yvonne Arias). Will Eddie be able to pay off his crooked, blackmailing parole officer (John Savage) and defeat the seemingly invincible Matador? Or will Father Mark (Richard Herd) succeed in persuading the morally-conflicted fighter to forgive and forget? What do you think?

Director Camacho is at the top of his game here and much of the film displays imagination and style, along with some occasional directorial missteps. At times, the meat-and-potatoes fight scenes have a little too much zippy editing and speed-up, slo-down effects, but they're hard-hitting and get the job done well. While sloppy editing and clunky cinematography were two of the main problems in CROOKED, they're no problem here. Some of the montage sequences are really good, especially when Eddie is ruminating on his hellish experiences in prison. And most of the dialogue scenes are visually interesting, with the help of a decent script by Camacho and co-writer R. Ellis Frazier.

The cast is way cool. It's a lot of fun to see old warhorses like John Savage, James Russo, Richard Herd, and Elya Baskin signing up for this sort of low-level action flick, then saying "what the hell" and giving it their all. Armand Assante is always a joy to watch in this sort of movie, and seeing him share the screen with Flava Flav, who plays a freaky lowlife to perfection, is definitely an unusual sight. As Eddie, Echavarria is low-key and restrained, giving his character a great deal of inner strength. Gizelle D'Cole is effective as Argento's alcoholic girlfriend who falls for Eddie, and as Matador, former UFC champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson makes for an intimidating figure--if they ever do a black version of THE HULK, he's their man.

All things considered, this movie is at least three times better than I thought it would be. Even the bad parts aren't that bad. And it's definitely not boring--I found myself thoroughly entertained the entire time. With a satisfying climactic battle and one of those cool, abrupt blackout endings, CONFESSIONS OF A PIT FIGHTER left me with a warm glow of goodwill toward it and its hot-and-cold-running director.

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