Sunday, August 05, 2018

Kew Gardens ’18: A Violent Man

Rocky Balboa never had to worry about social media—at least not until the Creed films. Lucky him. A viral video will earn Ty Matthews a shot at the title, but it will also set in motion his downfall in Matthew Berkowitz’s A Violent Man (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.

One fateful day, undisputed MMA champ Marco Reign and his manager Benjamin Green dropped by Pete Mack’s gym for a little tune-up sparring. Mack put him in with his top fighter, Matthews, whom Reign totally disrespects, until he is forced to tap-out. Granted, it was a bit of a fluky hold, but the bookies still would have had to pay out if it had been a real fight. Of course, it was pretty darned real to Matthews, who definitely sees this as an opportunity. That is why he reaches out to sports journalist Victoria Mata, despite signing Green’s NDA.

Things really start to change for Matthews after his sparring partner posts the video of his sparring match with Reign. Naturally, it goes viral immediately. Too bad Mata can’t write about it, because she was murdered the previous night, after sleeping with Matthews. It gets super-awkward when the cops start picking apart the alibi his suspicious girlfriend reluctantly provided. On the plus side, Green gives him the title fight he was hoping for, because its potential pay-per-view revenue is just too lucrative to pass up.

It has to be said: Matthews is bizarrely disinterested in who really committed the murder the cops are trying to pin on him. At least pay lip-service to “trying to find the real killers,” like O.J., especially since he isn’t actually guilty, unlike O.J. Granted, he is training for a big fight, but possibly getting framed for murder is also pretty important.

Frankly, Violent Man is a weird balance of gritty indie film and straight-to-DVD MMA potboiler elements. Representing the indie side are Isaach De Bankolé and Bruce Davison, both quite solid as Mack and Green, respectively. However, there is no getting around the current B-movie status of Denise Richards and Chuck Liddell (who will next be seen in a Timothy Woodward Jr. train wreck), who are credible enough providing the temptation and meatheaded rivalry as Mata and Reign. It is like Thomas Q. Jones’s Matthews is stuck in between either pole and could go either way.

This could really scare people off, but it should be noted minor unreality TV celebrity Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino makes a brief appearance as a dude who gets beat fifty shades of black-and-blue by Matthews, which is one of the few things he does that generates viewer sympathy.

Berkowitz falls a little short, but he deserves credit for reaching. The big title bout is particularly distinctive, because the tone is almost the complete polar opposite of the stirring standard set by Rocky, The Karate Kid, and their imitators. Yet, he ultimately neglects the film’s thriller business to the point of negligence. It is strange watching this film, because there is some substance here, but it feels like it was deliberately calibrated to alienate both of its potential audiences and snag middling two-and-a-half star reviews. Civilians can safely skip it, but the critical brethren should see it, just to file it away for possible future reference. For hardcore MMA fans, A Violent Man screens this Wednesday (8/8), as part of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.