Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions
The KO Picture Show
Presents. . .
Undisputed (2002)
"Snipes and Rhames head to prison. I imagine they kept any mentions of
'To Wong Foo. .' and the ball-gag time with Zed on the down low."
There are certain qualities I look for in the people that I call my friends. Loyalty is important. Sense of humor is a must. People who are fast and loose with compliments and/or money never hurt and are always welcome. But above all of that I prize humility in my compatriots. And an important extension of humility is the capacity for self-deprecation. Not demoralizing rants of, "I'm a loser and no one likes me!" but they should be able to poke a little fun at themselves. And they should be able to have a little fun poked at them by others without flying off the handle. I believe "being able to take it and dish it out" is an admirable quality. It just makes for a more enjoyable friendship. And I also feel it makes for a more enjoyable movie watching experience when the actors have this quality. I said in my review of Diggstown that one of the things I liked most about James Woods, Bruce Dern, and Lou Gossett Jr. was their flair for comedy and that they don't mind poking a little fun at themselves. And that brings me to the central point of this review:

Wesley Snipes has lost the ability to make fun of himself.

Mr. Snipes used to be exactly the type of actor I found appealing. I could sit and watch him in "Major League" and laugh at his double takes and na´vetÚ, all the while believing that he was a real major league ballplayer. And I found him just as enjoyable in serious fare, like "Jungle Fever" or "New Jack City". Sidney Deane, Simon Phoenix, Nino Brown. . he BECAME these people, and I found his versatility astounding. Then it all changed in 1998. Wesley found the weight room, started doing fewer interviews. Next thing you know he's a 5th degree blackbelt and he wants to be called "Blade" on set so he can stay in character. It's not the first time this has happened. It's the "Superhero Effect". Look at Michael Keaton. He was "Mr. Mom", and then he put on the cape, the hood, and the utility belt and lost his sense of humor for 7 years (he started to lighten up in '94 with "The Paper", but he wasn't completely out of the woods until 1996's "Multiplicity"). So the good news is we've only got about a year of Super Wesley left (although, he did 2 "Blade" sequels, while Keaton only did 1 more "Batman", so that might throw the equation off...). Until then, we have to endure more stuff like "Undisputed".

Monroe Hutchins (Snipes) is the reigning, undefeated, UNDISPUTED (eh, right?!) heavyweight champion of Sweetwater Prison. Jailed for committing murder in a fit of passion, he's now the Zen Master of cell block C, spending his time training and, inexplicably, building complicated structures out of toothpicks and glue. I'd like to tell you more about Monroe, but he ain't saying much, and the movie is saying even less. Just call him "one tough dude", compliment him on his toothpick sculpture, and leave it at that, OK?

The placidity of Sweetwater Prison is broken with the arrival of the "real" heavyweight champ, Iceman Chambers (Rhames). The Iceman has been convicted of rape. He denies it, but we're given the impression that even "no" might mean "yes" to the Iceman, and any sympathy for him immediately evaporates. The connection to Mike Tyson is drawn about as subtly as a poke in the eye (Rhames's Iceman is definitely more eloquent than Iron Mike, even after the GED). He quickly makes it clear that he's not to be messed with by beating up any skinhead or gangbanger that gets within an arm's length of him. He says there's only room for one heavyweight champion in this prison, which puts him at odds with everyone else at Sweetwater, and pretty much kills any chance of him and Monroe Hutchins ever being buddies. He even sucker punches Monroe in the cafeteria, and it is, as they say, on.

Up to this point, which was about 20 minutes in, I thought that we might be in for a breakthrough here. I mean, the characters were being drawn so broadly they bordered on caricatures.  Iceman = Bad, Monroe = Good, let's get it on! But I should have known better. Every chance that the movie had to poke fun at itself or lighten the mood was passed up for more demonizing of Iceman and more introspective shots of Monroe. They strung it out for a full hour, stopping just short of having to show Monroe doing Tai-Chi while the Iceman strangled kittens to make the point more succinctly. All of this overwrought faux-tension building made the ending a foregone conclusion. Why even bother with the fight at the end? The only breaks we got from the countdown to the fight are in the form of Peter Falk. Falk plays a mentally-addled gangster who wants to help make the highly unlikely prison fight a reality with his mob influence. I'm not sure whether he was meant to be comic relief here, but if you find Colombo dropping f-bombs every other second funny, you're in for a treat. If he was meant to be a stoic, no-nonsense presence in the film, then he failed miserably.

I really don't think any further explanation of the plot and how it unfurls is necessary. Even at 86 minutes long, this movie feels padded. By fight night, it's almost interminable. You can honestly watch the first 20 minutes and then shut it off. Anyone who can't see how this baby is gonna end up might be due for a catscan. The inevitable Iceman/Monroe match by movie's end has just enough goofy elements to it that you might be fooled into thinking that the whole thing was supposed to be played for laughs. But by the very end it's made perfectly clear that it's all dead serious and that Wesley Snipes is not be be laughed at.

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Let's start with the good stuff, okay? While my review might seem a tad derisive, that is no disrespect to Mr. Snipes' and Mr. Rhames' physical attributes. The dudes are in shape, no doubt about it. Some snarky types might say that Wesley must have a
"50% of movie spent shirtless" clause in his contracts, but I would never stoop to that level of sniping (pun not intended, but happily noted). And I was willing to give the filmmaker's the benefit of the doubt in regards to the almost cartoonish quality of the actual fight action. The bouts take place in a huge cage, with no ropes. Thankfully almost every punch thrown hits it's intended target, as a missed shot along the "ropes" would definitely result in some broken fingies. The punches bypass the usual "slap" and go for the whistling limbs and bamboo-crack blows that you only see in kung-fu movies. It made the fights entertaining at first, but it couldn't save the finale.

First, we're treated to a rapped renditon of The Star Spangled Banner by Master P and his crew. If it stirred any degree of patriotic fervor in anyone who watched this film, I'd be very surprised. And then we're in for 12 minutes of 'intentionally' fake boxing. In real time. No breaks. No background music to speak of. There's not even any in between rounds banter, as this is a "last man standing" kind of showdown. Try 'prentending' to do ANYTHING for 12 minutes straight. Pretend to be typing for 12 minutes, or talking on the phone. It's tedious, right? Now ask someone to WATCH you pretending to type or chat on the horn for 12 minutes. I'm willing to bet they find it less than riveting. The added bonus to all this is the non-stop (and I mean
NON-STOP) chatter of Mr. Ed Lover (of "YO! MTV Raps!" fame) as the ring announcer and color commentator. I'm a fan of the Ed Lover Dance and his afternoon drivetime show on New York's "Power 105.1 FM" isn't bad, but his work here is sub-par at best, and very rarely funny.

The fact that Ving Rhames is cast opposite Snipes in this picture makes my feelings about the "Superhero Effect" situation crystal clear. Ving Rhames has made a career out of being the stoic tough guy in movies. But part of what makes him engaging as an actor is his ability to step out of the tough guy persona and play people with softer edges. It makes me want to watch him more. Wesley Snipes seems to want to become "the stoic tough guy" and, to tell you the truth, it's wearing a little thin. Here's hoping that Mr. Snipes regains his sense of humor sooner rather than later. 

Rob Tillisch
Overall Rating -
1 - 2 -
Starring: Wesley Snipes,
Ving Rhames
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