Undisputed (2002) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Director Walter Hill has been making male-oriented action films since the early 1970s and Undisputed is another in a career full of gems from one of the cinema’s most underrated craftsman. Hill’s most notable film 48hrs put Eddie Murphy and (arguably) Nick Nolte on the map to stardom and riches. He is credited with inventing the ‘buddy cop’ genre that dominated movie screens in the 1980s. Once again Hill and co-writer David Giler have crafted a nifty B-movie; this time derived of genre elements from 1940s ‘noir’ thrillers and 70’s ‘exploitation’ films.

Wesley Snipes is Monroe Hutchen an inmate and underground Boxing Champion at a maximum security prison in Nevada. As luck would have it the actual reigning Heavyweight Champ has been convicted of rape and is sent to the same facility for the next eight years. Ving Rhames is ‘Iceman’ Chambers a thinly veiled reference to Mike Tyson, albeit with a deeper tone in his voice. The fact that Snipes and Rhames will eventually fight in a prison grudge match is never in doubt, the style and characters we meet in the process is what makes ‘Undisputed’ such an enjoyable time killer.

Peter Faulk steals the show as a foulmouthed gangster that is on his last leg but still has a love for all things combat related. It’s Faulk who is the catalyst for getting the two fighters into the ring. Snipes fighting for a piece of the money wagered and Rhames for a shortened sentence. Wes Studi is effective in a bit part as the cellmate and eventual manager to Chambers during his time in the prison. Fisher Steven is Snipes right hand man and the prison’s resident loudmouth. If all these characters sound like typical archetypes, they are. Its the talent of Hill as a writer and director that makes each a unique and fully realized individual within a story that is ridiculous but never played for laughs.

The well-staged final fight sequence is the centerpiece of the film. Even though the outcome is never in danger the film still manages to build a considerable amount of excitement. Both Snipes and Rhames are brutes that look the part of action heroes while each are OSCAR caliber actors as well. It’s unfortunate that New Line Cinema botched the theatrical release and the film died quickly at the box office. Walter Hill’s best film since Last Man Standing.

Director: Walter Hill
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Peter Faulk

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