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Friday, May 14, 2010

BARE KNUCKLES -- DVD review by porfle

Not nearly as exploitative as it could have been, BARE KNUCKLES (2009) takes us into the underground world of women's bare-knuckle fighting with a story that not only gives us plenty of wham-bam action but explores the human side of the characters as well. So if you're looking for a party DVD to slip in between mud-wrestling and boxing babes, you'll probably be disappointed. Otherwise, you might find it pretty involving.

Jeanette Roxborough stars as Samantha, a war widow living with her mother-in-law and trying to raise her handicapped daughter, Mila (Teya Roxborough), by doing stunt work in movies and moonlighting as a waitress-slash-bouncer in a dive bar. While ousting some rowdy customers one night, she catches the attention of washed-up fight promoter Sonny (Martin Kove), who talks her into trying her hand as a bare-knuckle fighter.

A few wins and some extra cash lead Samantha to throw in with a crooked sleazeball named Nedish (Louis Manylor), who definitely doesn't have her best interests in mind. After getting her butt soundly kicked by a powerhouse babe named Mona (kickboxing champion Bridgett "Baby Doll" Riley), Samantha goes back to Sonny and together they set their sights for the big time--a winner-take-all elimination fight rife with big-stakes gambling and dangerous people. Winning means big money, while losing could cost both Samantha and Sonny their lives.

Roxborough may not look all that tough, but as a professional stuntwoman in real life she's able to convince us that she can handle herself. She also handles the dramatic stuff pretty well, especially since many of her scenes are with her real-life daughter Teya, who is a deaf-mute with diminished muscle control but a natural knack for acting. Much of the middle section of the film focuses on them, as well as Sam's caring mother-in-law, Dorothy, sensitively portrayed by Joanne Baron. This is intercut with the obligatory training montage along with hints that the upcoming fight may be more than Sam has bargained for, especially with slimeball Nedish scheming behind the scenes.

The first and last segments of the film are lean and mean storytelling that waste no time getting where they're going. Director Eric Etebari has a simple but effective style that doesn't call attention to itself, and he stages the action well. Almost a third of the film is devoted to the final contest, which takes place on the grounds of a lush Malibu castle (which has since burned down) owned by millionaire Frenchman Loften (Anthony Cistaro), and the fight scenes are fast, rough, and fun to watch. They're pretty realistic, too, mainly when bad girl "Baby Doll" Riley is in the ring, with one knockout punch being especially brutal.

Riley and the other women are either way hot or sorta scary, or both, depending on your own personal tastes. (I had no complaints myself.) The camera does linger a bit on their semi-nude bodies in the dressing room, but stops short of gratuitous exploitation. (Rats!) The bouts leading up to the final fight are zipped through rather quickly in order to make way for the clash of the two finalists, the identities of whom you'll have no trouble predicting. Everything pretty much goes by the playbook and even the between-rounds chatter consists of the usual cliches ("You can do this!" "How bad do you want it? Suck it up!" "This is your time!") but the action is satisfyingly hard-edged. What isn't quite so satisfying is the abrupt ending, which gives us no time to cool down after the fight.

As for the rest of the cast, you can't go wrong with Mr. Martin Kove, who couldn't give a bad performance if you held a gun to his head, and likewise for Chris Mulkey as a laidback fight trainer dragged out of retirement to get Samantha in shape. Louis Mandylor is delightfully vile as Nedish, the quintessential land shark, and Bridgett Riley is so good as Mona that I've decided to ask her to marry me, or at least beat me up. Female bodybuilding fans will probably recognize stuntwoman Spice Williams-Crosby (despite some distracting cosmetic surgery) as Flame, another fight-biz retiree called back into service by smooth Sonny.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Subtitles are in English and Spanish. Extras include a trailer, a music video for Mylin's song "American Girl" which is heard in the bar scene, and a "making of" featurette.

While not exactly a shiny-slick piece of filmmaking, BARE KNUCKLES is a competent low-budget effort that gets the job done with a little style and a lot of enthusiasm. It doesn't quite score a knockout, but, like Rocky, it does manage to go the distance.

Buy it at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Me thinks she's holding her hands a little high for bare-knuckle boxing. ;-)