Undisputed II: Last Man Standing
Viewed as a direct sequel to Walter Hill‘s prison/boxing movie, Undisputed II is something of a disappointment. But as a vehicle for Michael Jai White as an action star, the movie is pretty good. We’ll have to put aside the fact that “Last Man Standing” is another of Walter Hill‘s movies and that that kind of name recognition is simply ridiculous of course, but that won’t be the only issue we’ll have to disregard.
The problems with the movie being a sequel are simple. You lose the character of Hutchen (Wesley Snipes) from the first movie. Being the more likable character, it’s easy to see how following the Iceman Chambers (complete asshole) would be a questionable move. Of course there is the matter of recasting Ving Rhames with Michael Jai White. While White is great fun in most any role he plays, recasting a lead is always hard to swallow. The movie takes place six years after the original and finds Iceman in Russia. No longer the champ, he finds himself endorsing Vodka to make ends meet. Being set up for a crime he didn’t commit by corrupt cops, he’s sent to another prison where competitive fighting is all the rage. In the sainted words of John McClane, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” Lucky for him everyone in a Russian prison speaks fluent English, even amongst themselves. Add to that, a mixed martial arts fighting style that Chambers, a professional boxer, could apparently learn within a few days.
Now it only makes sense to utilize all of White’s skills as a fighter and to capitalize on the MMA craze that is sweeping the world, but it doesn’t make movie sense. So you know what? Let’s get past all that. Forgetting that this is a sequel, the movie moves along at a good pace and has some great fight stunts. If you’ve got Michael Jai White in a movie you want to see him kicking! Hell, even seeing Snipes box in the first movie was strange when you knew he could kick some one up side the head anytime he wanted to! For some reason, Iceman is unusually slow at understanding the circumstances he’s in, so time and time again we have to watch him learn the hard way. Whether it’s cleaning up shit in the sewers of the prison or simply being told what to do by the guards, whatever the situation, the Iceman seems to find himself in a losing situation, getting beaten on or punished by the prison guards. You’ll either find this silly or funny, depending on your tastes. (Although it might make for a good drinking game)
The big baddy in the film is Boyka; a MMA fighter that has an eerie resemblance to a roided out Ben Affleck. Boyka, played by actor Scott Adkins has a little more to his character than a typical eighties villain. Maybe this is why director Isaac Florentine is prepping a third Undisputed film starring Adkins in the lead role. His brutal fight style is something to behold throughout every fight scene. All of the fight choreography, the real reason to watch a movie like this, is tight. All of the fights are sharp and well shot and it’s clear that a good portion of the budget ended up here.
There are only a couple of scenes that are in pretty poor taste and would seem to be more at home in a Steven Spielberg movie than an Undisputed film. All of them involve a bizarre sentimentality that lays a thick layer of cheese to a movie that it doesn’t look good on. There is even a Spartacus scene where the other inmates give their coats and hats and gloves to a freezing Chambers (tied outside in the snow as punishment for punching the warden) out of the goodness of their hearts. When asked who helped him, they all stand up in a display of Hollywood’s best used cliches.
For action and entertainment you could do a hell of a lot worse, but you’ll either need a grain of salt or a spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down. Maybe next time they’ll just drop the franchise and realize that any movie featuring Michael Jai White fighting his way out of a Russian prison is cool enough on it’s own.
The DVD features a commentary by the director, White and Adkins. Also included is a featurette on the making of the movie.