Those of you expecting Enter the Dragon to spark a revolution in Jiu Jitsu enrollment, Redbelt is not that movie. Redbelt is essentially a drama with large amount of the back and forth dialogue. Redbelt focuses on a Brazilian Jui-Jitsu instructor who takes his art seriously and sees it as a way to a better life as much or more than a way to dismantle his fellow man. His school is barely hanging on financially, partially because of his idealism which sits none too well with his wife and business partner. When he saves an over-the-hill movie star from a bar beating (Tim Allen), it appears as though his ship has come in. He’s promised a producing credit on the star’s new movie and hints that this is only the beginning. And then it all goes away. The light at the end of the tunnel, turns into an oncoming train and Terry finds himself forced to do something he did not want to do: Enter a Mixed Martial Arts tournament, which holds the promise of a full purse and the end to his financial difficulties but also tests his resolve as a man and a warrior.
Redbelt also scores with a nice contrast between the roots of martial arts and the ways those at the top use it to become rich. Ultimate Fighting is rapidly replacing boxing as a premiere spectator sport, and Redbelt takes great pains to explore the way it can twist and distort a foundation it purports to hold so dear. Still, it is kind of a cheap shot as watching a fighter backed into a corner until he’s forced to raise a fist is a tried and true movie formula, but it’s never been done so clumsily here. What happens to Mike Terry, our main character, never makes a lick of sense, and it only gets more ridiculous and slapdash as the movie wears on.
The movie’s pacing is a bit odd. The first two thirds of the film is basically the set up, which gives us a great deal of time to get to know the characters but at the same time makes us wonder if they’re getting to a point. Exploring codes of discipline and respect, Redbelt is an arresting feature. However as a stand alone film, this movie barely gets my recommendation. The performances are great, but the logic of these characters is difficult to buy.
Still, because for as all over the map as this thing is, Redbelt is still constantly engaging and never boring. Redbelt is a mature study of one man’s ethics in the face of extraordinary pressure. Intense performances, exciting footage inside the ring, tight pacing and a neat expose on the world of extreme/ultimate fighting make Redbelt a good way to spend 90 minutes. Just heed my warnings on the downfalls of this film and if you still want to see it, you should be able to enjoy yourself.