I have a great gift in the ability to enjoy exploitation cinema and genre films. When a movie like "Blood and Bones" comes along, I am able to watch and hopefully enjoy it for what it is.
"Bone and Blood" stars Michael Jai White. White, one may remember, played the titular character in self proclaimed bad boy Todd McFarland's kid friendly send-up of the demonic "Spawn." White branched out to TV and voice acting after the nearly career killing clownish "Spawn" movie failed to generate much positive buzz. White, however, is an accomplished martial artist primarily in the Kyokushin style – a brutal full contact form of karate (though he also dabbles in Wushu which is much more screen friendly) – and film loves high impact martial artists. So White has been given another chance as a leading man with this movie, the upcoming fantastically buzzed about blaxploitation tribute "Black Dynamite," and a rumored involvement in Robert Rodriguez's developing mess, "Predators."
White plays Bone, an ex-con with a heart of gold. After his release, Bone finds himself immediately drawn to the illegal street fighting scene where he hooks up with mouthy small time promoter Pinball (Dante Brasco). Bone's motivation is indistinct at first and that gives the first part of the movie a rushed feel. However there is a Reveal about half way through that explains Bone's motivations and helps tighten up the not-too-surprising storyline. Otherwise Bone is a bit of a mystery in that his crime, his time, and his history is left completely unexplained for the duration of the film.
Once Pinball realizes Bone's talent, he quickly concocts a scheme that will get Bone a shot at the local street fighting champ Hammerman (played with corny endearment by former MMA champ Bob Sapp) arranged through Hammerman's bigger-time promoter James (Eammon Walker – "Oz" jailhouse Muslim leader Kareem Said).
This comes at around the halfway point where the film shifts gears from a tournament style martial arts flick to more of a revenge flick. Bone's personal motivation is brought to the forefront and momentum leads to one final fight with, inexplicably, David Aldridge, of whom I know nothing about. I say inexplicably because the film is draped in cameos and roles by past and current MMA stars from various leagues. Aldridge has, literally, less than five minutes screen time and that role, it seems, could have been handled by one of the MMA guests.
The martial arts throughout the film look powerful and brutal but the choreography is not inspired. White is a gifted martial artist and it would be interesting to see him in the hands of a stellar fight choreography team. The fights were entertaining enough, though, due to what many a child of the 90s martial action films would called the Seagal Factor. The Seagal Factor is, simply, when the protagonist is such an incredible bad ass that he is never – not once – threatened in the film which leads to a kind of maniacal hand-rubbing glee. None of White's fights are competitive in "Bone and Blood," but they're still quite interesting due to the Seagal Factor.
From a tech standpoint the film has numerous flaws. There are many cues that are missed and mis-fired gestures that are stopped and started by the actors awaiting their cue in dialog scenes. The music is horrible. The score somehow alternates between syrupy sweet Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk piano music and NIN-like industrial riffs. The effect is jarring.
But this is not a movie to watch for its technical merits. It's a movie to watch for martial arts bad assery and in that way it works. It does not score high in finesse or creativity, but there is a certain primal element that White taps into that makes the movie a worthwhile popcorn flick.
It seems that "Black Dynamite" is a can't miss and working with Hollywood darling Rodriguez can't be bad for White's career, so White may finally be on his way to stardom. If not, Bone ended in a way that could easily lead to sequels of "The Equalizer" type story lines. Or maybe White will take off while Bone makes his way to the small screen. When's the last time we had a prime time martial arts series? I think Bone could work there.
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