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American BRAWLER is a hard-working martial arts drama, the greatest triumph of which is that it provides a platform for a bunch of very talented film fighters to display their talents. It's far from perfect, with a trailer that's definitely better paced than the film itself, but if you happen to like action flicks which mix a bit of wrestling with the tricking while leaning heavily on dramatic content, this one could interest you.
The story: When he finds himself in danger of losing his dojo, martial arts instructor Carlos Castillo (Marco Alvarez) gives in to the urgings of his brother Ricky (Dennis Ruel) and enters an underground fighting tournament run by a notorious gangster (O. G. Rivera).
"Dramatic" martial art features have their work cut out for them: especially when featuring performers whose kicks are stronger than their acting skills, they must balance trying to touch their audience with a soulful story and supplying them with the proper adrenaline rushes. When this is done right, you get a movie like Van Damme's IN HELL, from which a viewer can glean a respectable tale while still getting his karate fix. When this is done wrong, you get a film like Andre Lima's BEYOND THE RING, throughout which a viewer yells "Just fight already!" at the screen while enduring uncomfortably-staged drama. American BRAWLER is somewhere between those two: there's a respectable amount of action to see, but while the dramatic portions aren't all that bad, you still get the feeling that the movie has undertaken something too complex for itself. On one hand it's a family drama focusing on the relationship between brothers and between separated parents, while on the other hand it's a gangster fantasy with nonstop posturing and excess profanity. The two clash inharmoniously and I'm left with the opinion that it all seemed smoother in the filmmakers' imaginations.
The action content is an effort by the Stunt People team, whose work has greatly benefited several movies in the past. In this one, they attempt to mix their usual acrobatic kickboxing with some wrestling, the result of which is good but far from spectacular. I loved the first substantial fight between Alvarez and Ruel for its tight pacing and flawless filming, and the final battle between Alvarez and Morgan Benoit is also a strong showing, but the five fights between them feature choreography that had to be shot in shorter segments, and they generally lack that satisfying back & forth pacing. Marco makes a powerful presence for a first-timer and fits the role of his character well, but Morgan Benoit is unconvincingly built up as a beast whose main strength is fighting dirty. Just about everybody looks good while delivering their kicks, but in the end, there's just not enough oomph to bolster this one's average rating.
Despite being marketed as a "MMA Masterpiece," the movie actually expresses a negative sentiment towards fighting for profit, which may displease some of the audience it's being advertised to. Then again, I'm relatively apathetic about the film now that I've seen it, so it's hard to say how a more intrigued viewer might feel. It's worth a peek, but I wouldn't necessarily put it ahead of many other movies of the same genre.
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