Undisputed is not for everyone — let’s settle that up front. What is undisputed about the movie is that it is violent, nasty, gut-wrenching, and pretty darn unpleasant. It’s also fascinating, disturbing, and virtually unforgettable. If you like stories about leave-no-survivors boxing, gritty low-light, eye-scrunching cinematography, ear-grinding visceral musical soundtracks, bone-crushing action, 90 minutes of excruciating, slam-the-cell-door claustrophobia, and if you don’t want to vomit at the injustice in our legal system, then I suggest you hurry to see Undisputed, because I doubt it’s going to be around long. For exactly the same reasons you might like this risky, relentless movie, everyone else will avoid it. California’s frill-less Sweetwater prison lies on a vast flat wasteland, hard as concrete and just as dry, surrounded by treeless mountains, where the only thing that moves are the howling winds that freeze your face to leather. Director Walter Hill ( 48 Hours) takes the merciless nature of the setting and recreates it inside the prison. The point is clear: inside or outside prison walls, some men will always be more dead than alive. Ving Rhames (Baby Boy) is the Mike Tyson-like “Iceman” Chambers, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, sent to prison for 6 to 8 years on an trumped up rape charge. It seems that 90% of this prison’s population are huge, snarling, pumped up bad guys, a scary thing to me in the audience, but everyday annoyances for “Iceman.” Eliminating the competition is the price of celebrity–a few broken noses and some bravado grunts and he’s thinks he’s controlled the masses. Not quite. Minding his own business is monk-like lifer Monroe Hutchen, the prison program’s phenomenal boxing champion, (Wesley Snipes, (Blade). Every 6 months for the past 10 years Snipes has remained undefeated facing contenders from all the other prison programs. That’s his life, a biannual reprieve from his cell to become recognized as the best of something. Bored to insanity, the prisoners obsess about boxing and every symbol of freedom it imparts. Nearly senile mobster — but still passionate boxing fan — Peter Falk (Columbo) finagles an illegal fight between the two champions. He calls on his old pals in the casinos, who call on their old pals on the prison parole committees: Bets are made, bribes are taken, and the two champions push their bodies and minds to the limit. Undisputed moves inexorably toward the big fight scene careless of subtleties such as subplots or character building. It works because Snipes and Rhames really do “mythic” quite well. The fight itself is surely one of the greatest-ever movie fight scenes, more reminiscent of Raging Bull brutality than the ballet beauty of Ali. It’s the clash of two demon gladiators battling to get out of hell. Who will remain after the blood has been wiped up and the bribes paid off? Who will be the greatest, the true undisputed champion of the world?
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