- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by David Medsker
icture David Mamet making a movie, and while he’s making that movie, his second unit director uses the same cast and crew to make a different movie – one that’s similar to a Mamet movie but lacks his trademark rhythm and humor. “Redbelt” is the second unit director’s movie. It has all of the affectations of Mamet’s best work, but comes off more like an impression of Mamet than the real deal. It’s like hiring Kevin Pollak for a movie, then having him play the part as if he were Christopher Walken.
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Mike Terry, the noble (and broke) proprietor and instructor of a Jiu-Jitsu academy. A mishap at the academy involving one of Mike’s students, police officer Joe (Max Martini), and a skittish attorney who accidentally hit Mike’s truck (Emily Mortimer), starts a chain of events that turn Mike’s entire life upside-down. A visit to his brother-in-law and bar owner (Rodrigo Santoro) about why he wasn’t paying Joe for his bouncing services leads to Mike saving the ass of movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen) in a bar fight, which leads to a working relationship between Chet’s wife Zena (Rebecca Pidgeon) and Mike’s wife Sondra (Alice Braga). Incredibly, that working relationship leads to the involvement of fight promoters and loan sharks. It ain’t a Mamet movie until everyone’s dirty.
There is a conversation early in the movie between Mike and Joe’s wife that sets the tone for everything that follows. They’re not talking to each other so much as talking around each other, as if each person should be having that conversation with someone else. Is “Redbelt” its own story, or a mash-up of several, unfinished Mamet stories? The joke about making Mike a co-producer of Chet’s movie is from Mamet’s “State and Main.” The labyrinthine plot to seduce an innocent is similar to his 1997 movie “The Spanish Prisoner” (and “House of Games”). Granted, those movies are all worthy candidates to pilfer, but none of the pieces gel here. The laugh lines are flat, the acting is spotty (poor Mamet can’t help but cast his wife Pidgeon, despite her acting-challenged tendencies), and the payoff is dubious to say the least.
You can see what David Mamet was trying to accomplish with “Redbelt,” focusing on the honor and the discipline that lies at the heart of martial arts and the subsequent corruption of that honor for the sake of a buck. The problem – one of many, really – is that moralizing is not Mamet’s strong suit. Was he trying to out-Haggis Paul Haggis? Can’t be done, and no one wants him to try. Stick to what you do best, Mr. Mamet: lying, cheating, and stealing everything in sight.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
“Redbelt” might have been ignored by most moviegoers during its limited theatrical release, but the film’s DVD contains such a wealth of bonus material that you wouldn’t know it from first glance. Though the commentary by writer/director David Mamet is nearly ruined by the presence of Randy Couture, the single-disc effort includes plenty of other great extras including a behind-the-scenes featurette where the cast and crew discuss their experience on the film, and another (“Inside Mixed Martial Arts”) where experts talk about the history and future of mixed martial arts. Rounding out the disc is a 26-minute Q&A with Mamet, a slightly shorter interview with UFC president Dana White, and a short profile on magician Cyril Takayama.