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Arena (2011) – Review

3 Stars

Arena knows what it wants to accomplish and does so with professionalism, style and a fair amount of ingenuity. Although the film plays like Saw meets Gladiator, it also owes more than a little to films like Cube and Fortress. Twilight bruiser Kellan Lutz is David Lord, a rugby playing Denver fire fighter who loses his pregnant wife in a terrible car accident. Despondent and severely drunk he winds up in a Mexico bar with the intention of drinking himself to death. While flashing a wallet full of cash he attracts the attention of a corrupt bouncer who attempts a robbery in the bathroom. After making quick work of the hulking attacker, David is drugged and kidnapped only to awaken a prisoner and unwilling contestant in an underground fighting tournament.

Samuel L. Jackson is the biggest name in the cast and he plays his role of ‘Controller’ in a larger than life theatrical performance. Nobody is going to accuse Jackson of underplaying his part here, but hey I’m not complaining. Jackson’s manic sense of mischief is well used (unlike the mess that was The Spirit). As for Luntz, the jury is still out, he resembles a bulked up version of Ryan Phillipe. He was obviously cast for his physique because his character appears shirtless for nearly the entire running time. The few moments that require him to ‘act’ aren’t enough to congratulate or condemn the kid.

Director Johan Loop pushes the violence, gratuitous gore and frontal nudity to the limits of the MPAA ratings. This production looks expensive enough to have played theatrically abroad, but here in the states it has to settle for a straight-to-DVD release. That may mislead potential viewers into thinking that Arena is another bottom of the barrel fight flick, in reality it’s one of the most entertaining films of its kind I’ve seen in years.

Director: Jonah Loop
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Kellan Lutz, Katia Winter