Cagefighter is a sports movie through and through, and while this review will avoid throwing out spoilers, the film isn’t exactly interested in twists and turns. What you think is going to happen is pretty much what’s going to happen.
But there are some fun surprises in Cagefighter, and the movie asks some questions that you may have never thought to ask. For example, what if Dana White was a woman? Gina Gershon answers that query with panache, chewing the scenery as fight promoter Max Black, a woman who would give White all he could handle.
Professional wrestler Jonathan Good plays a professional wrestler, and unsurprisingly, he does a good job of portraying a professional wrestler.
Delightfully, Luke Rockhold plays a douchey sort of a guy, and check this out—he nails it. Who knew Luke Rockhold could deliver a line? He is so much more believable portraying Tony Gunn, fictional human being, than he is when giving interviews as Luke Rockhold, actual human being. In one scene, he has to deliver some passionate lines, and that’s a bit of a stretch, but for his first acting role, Rockhold exceeds expectations.
Chuck Liddell, on the other hand, has racked up thirty acting credits at this point in the game. He plays a veteran coach well, relying on his natural intensity to carry his lines and following a “less is more” approach that works for him. Physically, Liddell looks as if his movement is hampered by old injuries, and it is alarming to think he fought Tito Ortiz only two years ago, at age 48. Here’s hoping the acting roles keep coming his way.
Alex Montagnani, a British professional MMA fighter who has fought within the Cage Warriors promotion, is our protagonist. Initially brought onto the project as a fight choreographer and quickly promoted to star, Montagnani is easy to like as Reiss Gibbons, a laid back champion with a heart of gold. Although writer-director Jesse Quinones is interested in portraying him as a vulnerable man, frightened of losing and of returning to poverty, it is a shame that the script did not allow for more complexity in his character development.
On the plus side, Quinones is clearly well familiar with the worlds of MMA and professional wrestling, and it’s fun to hear dialogue that is MMA literate. There are plenty of inside jokes for fans, many of them delivered beautifully by Elijah Baker, who plays Gibbons’s manager Reggie. Baker is a true acting talent and elevates every scene he is in. Montagnani and Baker have strong onscreen chemistry, their bromance feels real.
On the downside, it seems as though Quinones was mostly interested in creating a movie that feels like a very long episode of UFC: Embedded, only not as good. We stay skimming along the surface as events unfold, and while we get the semblance of delving into the underlying psychology of Reiss Gibbons, we don’t ever get too deep into the mind of the fighter. Quinones is much better at writing fun, natural sounding banter than he is at getting to the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, this isn’t a comedy but a meditation on the pitfalls of becoming—and staying—a champion.
MMA fans will be a bit disappointed by the fight choreography—especially when what we see happening differs from what the commentators say is happening. Additionally, sound design during fight sequences is not an easy art to master, something that is made evident by the work done on Cagefighter.
As far as the overall premise and plot, it is outlandish, but no more so than any of the MMA movies than have come before it. Full credit to the writing and the actors for making the implausible premise feel possible.
Cagefighter will be released in theatres and available on demand October 9th.