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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Undisputed

Starring: Ving Rhames, Wesley Snipes
Director: Walter Hill
Rated: R
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: August 2002
Genres: Drama, Sports

*Also starring: Peter Falk, Steve Heinze, Ed Lover, Michael Rooker, Master P, Jon Seda, Wes Studi, Fisher Stevens

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Pecking orders exist everywhere, from the queen bee to the pecking chickens themselves and throughout most of the animal kingdom. One member of each unit declares himself or herself top dog and can be challenged by any or all underdogs. The fastest gun in the West will inevitably be forced to engage in a fight to prove he's still got what it takes and in business, the higher you go, the more others are out for your job. With greater privileges come great risk, and so it is in prison where the undisputed champ of a boxing series in a maximum security cell in California's Mojave Desert, Monroe Hutchen, has his title contested by his most dangerous opponent, the former heavyweight champion of the world, James "Iceman" Chambers (Ving Rhames).

Iceman's character appears to have been modeled from Mike Tyson. While Chambers has never been knocked down to the mat, he has apparently been flat on his back in a hotel room bed where a woman, invited for drinks, accuses the champ of rape, sues him for $75 million, and has a jury of his peers find him guilty. He is sentenced to 6-8 years with a chance of getting out early for good behavior, a better deal than the one granted to Hutchen, who has beaten a man to death after catching him in flagrante with his woman and has been sentenced to life without parole.

Walter Hill, who directed this solid action melodrama without giving the audience a single lull–though some could argue that mafioso Mendy Ripstein's (Peter Falk) monologue that hardly comes out of Shakespear is the comic relief. Not so. Hill, whose 1979 drama "The Warriors" about New York street gangs allegedly instigated gang violence in its wake, has not lost his touch. While neither Chambers nor Hutchen can be called exactly a hero (though we wonder why Hutchen's crime of passion merited a life sentence without parole), we root for Monroe because he is in control of his emotions. While Iceman is busy starting fights over any perceived insult, Hutchen calmly builds boats with toothpicks and glue while keeping one high profile toothpick between his teeth. Hutchen doesn't mind solitary, but such treatment is anathema to the overbearing bully he eventually fights.

The fisticuffs look real, as the contenders, having considered going at each other with bare knuckles according to 19th Century rules, settle for wearing 6-ounce gloves. The outcome is not in doubt since, after all, this is not what you'd call an "art" movie despite its Miramax imprimatur. Snipes looks smaller and less physically imposing than he had been in the past years' movies while Rhames is mighty impressive. The show-stealer, however, is Peter Falk in the role of a guy who was Meyer Lansky's lieutenant way back when and who now, at an advanced age, shows how a mafioso can still command both respect and power whether in a jail cell or not. Though "Undisputed" is what some would call a "B" movie–referring to the genre of films that used to accompany the main pic back when admission was a quarter–it is very good "B" movie, with realistic dialogue, outstanding character portrayals by Rhames, Snipes and Falk, and solid, visceral action.

Copyright © 2002 Harvey Karten

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