Unrivaled Warren P. Sonoda

Unrivaled Warren P. Sonoda
Ten minutes into Unrivaled, mixed martial arts fighter Ringo Duran (Hector Echavarria) goes to a strip club, and director Warren P. Sonoda's camera lingers on a stripper's gyrating, naked body. Less than six minutes later, we're back at the club, this time focused intensely on another stripper's panty-clad backside, filmed with soft-focus cinematography that suggests an airbrushed Maxim spread. By the time we make our third visit during minute 24, I realized that this location was becoming Unrivaled's equivalent to a Greek chorus. Look, I'm all in favour of nudity in direct-to-video MMA films, but there's a whiff of desperation to these scenes. No, Warren P. Sonoda, you can't bribe me into liking your movie by smothering me with boobs. Indeed, desperation pervades Sonoda's entire directorial approach, which suffocates the feeble narrative in an avalanche of pointless "style": handheld camerawork, overexposed lighting and choppy editing. In a scene where several MMA executives discuss an upcoming match, is there any need for the camera to swoop around the office then cut to a view from outside the window then cut to another view from 50 feet away, other than for the director to show off his mastery of gratuitous camera tricks? The vaguely Rocky-tinged story stars co-writer, executive producer and real-life MMA star Hector Echavarria as an aging fighter who enters a dangerous, but potentially lucrative, tournament that could help him get out of mob debt. Echavarria is somewhat more comfortable here than in his previous vehicle, the abominable Death Warrior, but his line readings are stiff and his romantic chemistry with Jordan Madley, the oft-nude leading lady, is non-existent. All this might have been forgivable if the fight scenes delivered the goods, but Sonoda butchers them with shaky camerawork and heavy cutting. Still, I do like the moment when a wad of digital blood splatters across several audience members in the opening fight. Perhaps this is Warren P. Sonoda's little tribute to Raging Bull? DVD extras include several very short, very worthless making-of documentaries and interviews. (E1)