I think it's safe to say the director of Arena is a fan of the Starz show "Spartacus". This film follows a very similar formula to those stories: Take it to the Extreme. Extreme blood. Extreme nudity. Extreme situations. Most American men will be pleased.
The film opens with a hokey-looking gladiator fight being viewed by various people around the world. We learn that "Death Games" is an illegal online program that features real fights to the death. It's a hit with college kids and Japanese office workers around the globe. The FBI, Interpol, and everyone else are unable to locate them and shut it down.
Our hero, David Lord (Kellen Lutz), is in a car crash with his pregnant wife, who dies. David finds himself seduced by a hot British lady, played by Katia Winter, who will no doubt find herself on the "watch list" of many young men, as she is gorgeous,a good actress,and apparently very willing to do full-frontal nudity. If nothing else, I think she gives the perfect audition for the actual "Spartacus" show.
Samuel L. Jackson plays the "ringleader" of the online fighting business. He is delightfully over-the-top, although it is difficult to get the question of "why is he in this movie?" out of your head. Clearly he owed the director a favor or something.
Amazingly, he probably gives the WORST performance of the film. The main character, the chick, and the assorted bad guys are all pretty decent, but Sam feels a bit wooden, even when he's shouting and dancing around. I agree with another reviewer who theorized that perhaps the director was a bit intimidated when directing the great Samuel L. Jackson. Still, I will give him tremendous props for agreeing to do this movie. Nothing wrong with helping people out, and he is actually IN the movie, unlike many "celebrity cameo" parts in modern films where the big name only appears in one or two scenes.
The fight scenes are a mixed bag. They are pretty bloody, but the great fight choreography of "Spartacus" is missing. They also have an annoying "Vignette" effect on all the fights that darkens the corners of the frame...I found it distracting. There are things that work, though. The first fight looks a little odd, but then you realize that even "in the movie" they are meant to look a little odd, since they are filmed in a green screen room and then given fake backgrounds. This is part of the plot, as the fight locations change each time. One fight might be in a "gladiator" style with swords and armor, another in a "world war I" style with trenches and bayonets. That was very clever and well done.
One thing the film does well is a bit of "fourth wall" humor. References to other movies and TV shows, including a direct reference to "Spartacus", as well as a hilarious "Office Space" moment with a twist, really help remind the viewer that this movie is ultimately meant to be fun.
The main character, Kellen Lutz, was a surprise. I'd never heard of the guy, but he was pretty good. You don't hate him for being a "pretty boy" since he gets himself pretty bloodied and messed up. He definitely seems to be channeling the late, great Andy Whitfield from "Spartacus" with his cold stares and angry, slow-motion screaming; he even kind of looks like Andy.
As I mentioned earlier, Katia Winter stole the show with her Femme Fatale character. Despite the fact that after her third nude scene even I was questioning exactly WHY she needed to be in the buff so much, I enjoyed the hell out of her performance, even when clothed! She has the perfect "evil Bond girl that turns good" attitude, and I predict we'll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.
The director, Jonah Loop, is a veteran special effects producer on many big movies. Despite the low-budget, it's evident there is talent behind the camera. The movie is very well shot and edited, to the point where you actually forget the "low-budge" origins at times. It's really only the fight scenes that look a little hokey. I'd say the guy did a great job with what he had, and I certainly will check out his future efforts.
If you are a fan of shows like "Spartacus" or movies like "Gamer", this is one you should check out. If nothing else, I guarantee you will not be bored.
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