"The Philly Kid" has some nice punching sounds. I mean that, really. Of all the low-budget martial arts action movies in recent years, there's finally a fight movie with some impressive punching sound effects. Of course movies in recent years are going for more realism than in times past, but sometimes I really yearn for the old-school days of outrageous sound effects sometimes.
But despite the obviously low budget, "The Philly Kid" has a typical-sounding plot that serves merely as a thread for impressively choreographed fight sequences. But the by-the-numbers plot is carried by an enthusiastic lead performance by Wes Chatham, who is able to make his character all of likable and sympathetic - like the best characters that Jean-Claude Van Damme played early in his career in movies like "Bloodsport" (1988), "Kickboxer" (1989) and "Lionheart" (1990), the latter film which this movie (and most others like it) owes the biggest debt of legacy to.
And despite his impressive good-boy looks, he is not a lunk-head, but is actually bright and intelligent and believes in doing the right thing. And it certainly makes his progression through the film's flimsy plot not a chore but something close to an actual journey as he undergoes some form of a positive transformation into a better person, however marginalized by society at large.
Things begin with a simple quest for booze for a night of harmless underage drinking with Dillon Maguire (Chatham), his friend Jake (Devon Sawa), and a third friend. When they're accosted by a trio of thugs, Dillon, the top collegiate wrestling prospect in the world, accidentally kills one of them in self-defense. To make matters worse, one of his friends was carrying a gun and accidentally shot and killed one of the police officers responding to the disturbance.
As a result, both Dillon and Jake are sent to prison for 10 years. When Dillon is finally released, Jake (who had been paroled four years earlier) manages to track him down and get him a job with his uncle in a liquor store. Because Jake has suddenly become indebted to some ruthless local gangsters, Dillon agrees to settle his debts for him by jumping into the world of underground mixed martial arts fighting. In doing so, he seeks out the training of a former champ, LA Jim (Neal McDonough), so he can compete and settle his friend's pricey debts.
"The Philly Kid" is a lot like most underground fight competition movies in the four decades since the explosion of martial arts movies in the 1970s in the wake of Bruce Lee. But what gets it by is the lead performance by Wes Chatham. As I stated before, his character has been through some pretty rough patches for such a young man, and his journey into the world of underground cage fighting can be seen as his way of seeking redemption and becoming a better person so he can enjoy a better life for himself - and his new love Amy (Sarah Butler).
The fight sequences are pretty brutal and look realistic, with Dillon Maguire dishing out punishment to his opponents while also taking some punishment of his own. "The Philly Kid" was directed by Jason Connery and written by Adam Mervis, and it's an impressive low-budget feature with some good performances. The action scenes are also stand-out, as I previously mentioned.
It's well worth at least one viewing.
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