There is more plot and character development in Michael Jackson’s music video for “Beat It” than in “Undisputed,” a forgettable prison boxing movie.
“Iceman” (Ving Rhames), the world heavyweight champion, is convicted of rape and sent to a maximum security prison. Monroe (Wesley Snipes), a former heavyweight contender, is the undefeated champion in the inter-prison division. They fight each other. That isn’t a summary of the movie – that is the movie. There is some flash and attitude, but it is all on the surface.
The boxers fight in a cage rimmed with barbed wire. That makes for some cool shots through the swirls, but it doesn’t make any sense. There’s an escape risk in the middle of a boxing match with all the guards standing there watching? The movie avoids having to show us anything about the characters by just telling us everything we need to know about them with words superimposed on the screen. When the prisoners start banging their cups in the mess hall, the oldest of prison movie clichés, one guard says to another, “These dumb ****s have been watching too many prison movies.” If only they had been paying attention, they could have learned how to make this one better.
Sports movies (and prison movies, and, come to think of it, most movies) work well when they show us a metaphorical journey involving risk, learning, sacrifice and growth. There’s none of that here. Iceman and Monroe are unchanged from beginning to end. We hear that Iceman is a strong offensive boxer, so we expect to see Monroe develop a strategy to put him on the defense. Nope. Iceman says he is not guilty of the rape, so we figure he’s going to have to accept responsibility. Nope. Monroe says that he has learned to live entirely inside himself, rely only on himself, and stay in control at all times, so we expect to see him have to rely on someone else. Nope. Some big deal is made about having the big fight according to the old rules from the bare-knuckle days, but then the guy organizing the fight changes his mind and decides they will use gloves. Except for one guy who dies, everyone ends up pretty much where they started.
All that’s left, then, is the boxing. There are some powerful moments, but they, too, are flash without substance, and show no real understanding of the sport.
Parents should know that the movie has extremely strong language (including the n-word in the soundtrack), violent confrontations, references to rape and prison sex, and corrupt officials. Some viewers will be concerned about implications that a rape survivor may be lying about what happened.
Families who see this movie should talk about what it meant to Monroe and Iceman to be the champion. How were their ways of coping similar and how were they different?
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy some of the classic boxing movies, like “Body and Soul,” “Golden Boy,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” “Rocky” and “Raging Bull.”