Without the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, director Jonah Loop’s “Arena” probably would have gotten completely lost in the direct-to-video shuffle. It’s something you’d expect a bunch of professional mixed martial artists to star in, not someone who has tons of big-budget, big screen experience. The story itself is as generic as they come — a disillusioned fireman, mourning the loss of his fiancee and his unborn child, finds himself as an unwilling participate in an underground fight tournament — though the sheer brutality of the film’s numerous fight sequences make up for the picture’s narrative shortcomings. The filck also comes packaged with a fairly ridiculous twist that shows up out-of-the-blue during the film’s blood-stained finale, one that will either make you laugh out loud or shake your misshapen fist at your television screen in anger. None of these remarks should be construed as negative, mind you. I literally could watch this garbage 24-hours a day if given the opportunity to do so. Hardcore fans of “Twilight” hunk Kellan Lutz, meanwhile, will have much to swoon over, as the guy can’t seem to keep his shirt on for five minutes. If that’s what it takes to get movies like “Arena” made, so be it.
There are six credited screenwriters associated with director Lawrence Silverstein’s ridiculous Sean Faris-centric actioner, which means there were essentially six different fingers farting around in one low-budget pie. Given the feature’s problems, that actually makes a lot of sense. The film follows the adventures of a professional freerunner named Ryan who inexplicably finds himself forced to compete in a deadly game of Parkour involving time limits, illegal online gambling, and, of course, remote-controlled explosive collars. Problem is, the script is all over the place. One moment there’s a light-hearted exchange between our hero and his randy girlfriend as they attempt to purchase condoms, and the next someone’s head is exploding all over a nearby wall. “Freerunner” feels like something that PM Entertainment or AIP would have released back in the late-80’s/early-90’s, though it probably would have starred someone like David Carradine or William “Jungle Assault” Smith. Danny Dyer, who plays the film’s egotistical villain, chews scenery like there’s no tomorrow, which adds to the flick’s campy, over-the-top atmosphere. The stunts, of course, are the production’s saving grace, which is good, really, because that’s the only reason anyone would want to watch something called “Freerunner” in the first place. If you approach the movie in the right frame of mind, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
I went into “Marked for Death” director Dwight H. Little’s wonky video game adaptation with extremely low expectations. After all, most of these things are flawed by design, and I didn’t anticipate anything remarkable from this particular endeavor. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found “Tekken” to be a wholly serviceable affair, one that actually outshines the vast majority of its like-minded brethren. The film, which really has very little to do with the franchise from what I can recall, chronicles the exploits of a scrappy little fellow who enters a government-sanctioned tournament in order to avenge his mother’s death. Visually speaking, the film is a delight, as are the numerous martial arts-tinged fight sequences scattered throughout the film. Gary Daniels does well as the villainous Bryan Fury, though it’s direct-to-video veteran Luke Goss who ultimately steals the show as brawler-turned-trainer Steve Fox. Even if you’ve sworn off video game flicks for the rest of life — having endured such cinematic sludge as like “Max Payne” and “Hitman”, I can totally understand why — give “Tekken” a shot. It’s damned enjoyable, even if it is entirely predictable. If end up hating it with a passion, at least you got to see “Karate Kid Part II” star Tamlyn Tomita kick a little ass. That’s money well spent right there.