Three things “Unrivaled” taught me about MMA in movies

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By Peter Lampasona

Long before directors like Steven Soderbergh and Sylvester Stallone got the idea to cast mixed martial artists in films, former stuntman and always visionary Hector Echavarria was bringing MMA champions to the silver screen without the frills of a budget or actors. Echavarria’s latest romp into the glamorous world of straight to DVD features, “Unrivaled”, actually has a lot to teach viewers about where MMA and its athletes’ future really lay in the world of cinema.

3. Drama is not going to work

For those unfamiliar with Echevarria’s work before “Unrivaled”, the reviews could be summed up as such: God bless him, the movies just aren’t that good. The actresses straight out of soft core porn, the plotlines as nonsense as soft core porn, and the actual soft core porn on screen between fight scenes didn’t exactly make for award winning cinema.

“Unrivaled” attempts to create a more dramatic and character driven story than its predecessors with blatant theft. The plot of a washed up underdog fighter who is given shot at glory via a publicity stunt from a charismatic champion is taken directly from the pages of “Rocky”. It also has crammed in there an unathletic young sidekick who demonstrates the true meaning of heart a la Danger Barch in “Million Dollar Baby”, two mysteriously overeducated stripper with a heart of gold, a head strong rival who learns that money isn’t everything, and just about every other stereotype you could ask for.

After the jump, more about this epic drama fail, and the top two things to take away from Echavarria’s latest gem!

It all makes about as much sense as the other Echevarria productions, only the attempts at dramatic turns just make it sad. While no one is going to be throwing awards at a picture like “Death Warrior”, there’s also not a living soul that can watch Nick Mancuso scream his lines out at a desperately unhammy Keith Jardine without letting loose a giggle.

In “Unrivaled”, the fact that characters seem to do random things for no reason becomes much more noticeable with the pretense of a real production. Even the usual “tits and action” approach of sex scene followed by fight scene sticks out like a sore thumb when they try to put together an actual movie rather than just a series of images that guys like.

2. Keith Jardine is the best actor to come out of MMA

It’s strange to say, but its true. As previously alluded to, the Jardine’s screen debut in “Death Warrior” had him steal the show with an understated performance. Admittedly, its easy to be understated when playing next to a villain that is foaming at the mouth and randomly killing extras. But with significantly less screaming lunatic around him in “Unrivaled”, Jardine still does a good job.

Jardine’s character is the victim of a bad script that needs him to be different things at different times with no real character progression. In one scene he’s a classic 1980’s style bully villain. The next he’s a sympathetic anti-hero who just got in over his head. Still the next he’s a man whose shaken faith has been reaffirmed.

In spite of the lack of continuity, Jardine is perfectly believable every time he’s on camera. He only had a few lines that came out sounding bad, and they were the kind of lines that not even a seasoned actor could make sound good.

Give Jardine the right script, cast as a down to earth tough guy next to a real leading man, and he could probably do this for a living. Given that he’s something of an old war horse in the fight game but a little too famous to go back to bounty hunting, acting might be a good thing to transition to the closer Jardine gets to retirement.

1. Straight to DVD is the future for MMA in movies

As companies like TapouT are well aware, MMA fans are consummate consumers. The hard cores will buy almost any toy, t-shirt, or accessory related to their favorite sport just to say they have it. As long movies like Hector Echavarria’s cost less to make than the amount of MMA fans who will buy them for a laugh times $15 for a discount DVD, there is a profit to be had in B-grade MMA movies.

Releasing big budget movies like The A-Team with the same appeal to manic action may lead to a better overall product. But Echavarria’s efforts will never cost more than they are worth. In fact, the low budget MMA movie is quickly becoming part of the fight fan culture, like the hilarious projects of Seagal or Norris in the 80’s. While the occasional production may see true main stream crossover, the majority of MMA’s claim to the movie market will be laid in a bin at Best Buy.

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