Thursday, June 23, 2011

SUMMER OF ACTION! -- The Iceman Cometh

"In the end, everybody gets beaten. The most you can hope for is that you stay on top a while. Be the best."

Ving Rhames (PULP FICTION, Vanessa Williams' Radio Shack commercial hubbie) stars in UNDISPUTED (Buy at Amazon) as James "The Iceman" Chambers, an undefeated heavyweight boxing champ serving time for rape. Sound familiar?

Wesley Snipes (BLADE, ART OF WAR) is Monroe Hutchens, serving a life sentence for a murder committed in the heat of passion (naturally). A highly-regarded fighter while on the outside, Hutchens has taken advantage of the prison's boxing program and hasn't lost a fight in the decade that he's been in the joint.

Sent to the same prison where Hutchens reigns supreme, The Iceman quickly tries to establish his dominance through violence and intimidation. When the wheels of the system get set in motion, a battle between Hutchens and The Iceman is inevitable. And to Hill's credit, the inevitable winner isn't a forgone conclusion.

It's too bad that they couldn't have cast The Iceman role with somebody more athletic or believable than Rhames. While he's certainly an imposing presence, he comes off as big and lumbering, not an athlete who dominates his sport on the outside. (This was corrected in the highly entertaining sequel UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING in which Michael Jai White replaces Rhames.) Snipes, on the other hand, is in marvelous shape (big surprise) and gives his character more humanity, poise and depth than was probably needed.

Unfortunately, writer/director Walter Hill's prison/boxing hybrid was in and out of theaters in a flash and got lost in the 2002 event flick shuffle. Not that it's anything great like Hill's EXTREME PREJUDICE, but it certainly wasn't deserving of this fate.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the low-budget franchise continued with 2006's UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING and the highly regarded UNDISPUTED III: REDEMPTION (2010), both directed by Isaac Florentine. Look for coverage of both sequels coming up during ER's Summer of ACTION!

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