Bare Knuckles


“Disappointing where it matters, surprisingly good where it doesn’t.”

Samantha Rogers (Roxborough) works in a bar, where her no-nonsense approach draws the attention of somewhat shady fight agent Sonny Cool (Kove), who convinces her to try her hand in the world of unsanctioned women’s MMA. While the money’s good, a brutal beating at the hands of current champion Mona (Bridgett Riley) convinces Rogers to give up. However, Cool comes knocking on her door with news of a 16-woman contest with a six-figure, winner take all payout, that would set single-mom Rogers and her disabled daughter (Roxborough’s real daughter) up for life. The bad news is in two parts: it’s no-holds barred, and Mona will also be in the field, along with thoroughly shady agent Nedish (Mandylor), for whom Cool has no affection.

Yeah, stop me if you’ve heard that plotline before. This would be tolerable – heck, JCVD pretty much made a career out of it – if the action was anything to write home about, but it occupies an uneasy ground between being realistic and choreographed, which satisfies as neither. This results in the viewer watching a supposed MMA fight, in which the combatants do front-flips, splits and other moves that you just do not see inside the octagon. Similarly, these are supposedly the baddest women on the planet…and they all look like supermodels? I’m also forced to wonder how an event, staged in front of, ooh, perhaps dozens of people, can fund a purse of half a million dollars. If that truly were the case, I’d have sold this site to News Corp, and be typing this from a beach somewhere in the South Pacific.

Surprisingly, the best things about this are the performances. Roxborough is convincing, Kove unexpectedly likeable, Mandylor appropriately sleazy and Mulkey, as Al the trainer, channels Michael Madsen to good effect. I imagine Etebari probably met Roxborough on the set of Witchblade, where he played Ian Nottingham, and she doubled for Yancy Butler. [I note, with amusement, that a scene with Oscar-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins, who happened to be on location one day, ended up on the cutting-room floor!] Perhaps the standout was Spice Williams-Crosby as a veteran fighter, who advises Samantha – she has been doing stunt-work for over a quarter of a century now, and brings that experience and intensity to her supporting role. However, on balance, I’d rather have had action that worked and acting that didn’t; the end result is largely forgettable and fails to deliver as promised.

Dir: Eric Etebari
Star: Jeanette Roxborough, Martin Kove, Louis Mandylor, Chris Mulkey

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