May 18, 2008

300 Words About: Redbelt

On paper, Redbelt looks like a mad lib: "Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster) stars with Tim Allen (Wild Hogs) and Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl) in a movie about martial arts, written and directed by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross)."


My curiosity got the best of me (as it usually does when Mamet is involved with something), but in this case, curiosity unfortunately almost killed the moviegoer. Redbelt is a dull, tedious, inane film, saved from the lowest depths of mediocrity by one Chiwetel Ejiofor, who we'll assume took this particular role simply to diversify his credits and/or add Mamet to his Rolodex. Had Ejiofor been given the chance to do more within his role, Redbelt just might have achieved Mamet's vision of a story of a man in the midst of a moral storm, forced to choose between money, honor, love and life.

This particular man is Mike Terry (Ejiofor), a Jiu-Jitsu instructor in L.A. who's apparently the only pure master left in the sport, his peers having sold out to the showy (and profitable) mixed martial arts pay-per-view culture. Mike refuses to compete despite the financial troubles that are straining his marriage to an aspiring fashion designer, Sondra (Alice Braga, I Am Legend; City of God). An accident at Mike's training academy between a traumatized lawyer (Mortimer) and a troubled cop is the first in a series of unfortunate incidents for Mike, tangling him up with loan sharks, fight promoters, the cop's wife, and Chet Frank (Allen), a washed up, worn down actor who wants to use Mike's secret training techniques in his next film. As you would guess, all of this eventually leads to an alternate ending from The Karate Kid.

Mamet's inclusion of unnecessary characters and silly plot contrivances dilutes a potentially great character study. His distinctive writing is on full display here, but it's nothing to appreciate in a dead-end story. I think most people have already given up on Mamet (I was the only person in theater), and at this point it will probably take more than curiosity for me to pay for his next film.


  1. Ah well, I will see it eventually, like you, only out of curiosity.

    Too bad it sucks. To bad indeed.

  2. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the only asset here that arouses my curiousity, but since the movie sounds blah, I'll just go watch him in something that isn't.

    Thanks for the warning Daniel.

  3. It's not offensively bad or anything, Nick, but I'll be surprised if you find anything amazingly special about it.

    Hehe, he doesn't disappoint, Rachel, but you have to slog through a lot of other garbage to enjoy him. As you say, might as well watch a more tolerable movie if you're fixin' for some Ejiofor.

  4. I missed the press screening of this a few weeks ago (2.5 hour drive + 11 AM + school = no thank you), but I'm kinda glad I did. Doesn't sound like I missed much.

  5. You'd receive an "A" on this math test, Matthew...

  6. Wow - I can't believe how much Mamet has gone downhill. I have not seen this movie, but after what you wrote, it confirms my instinct that I would not like it that much. Which is too bad, because usually I want to see everything that the versatile Emily Mortimer is in. Seriously, has anyone else but me seen and enjoyed A Foreign Affair, or her short stint on 30 Rock??

    Anyway back to David Mamet -- I read the 1984 play of Glengarry Glen Ross in high school, and then saw the 1992 film version in the theater, and loved them both. I also got to see the play of Oleanna in London in 1993, and loved it (have not seen the film version of that). Obviously the guy can write. Over the years I have rarely enjoyed some of his "big-budget" Hollywood screenplays jobs, but his own more independent films have been worthwhile, and I again loved both The Spanish Prisoner (1997) and Heist (2001) when I saw them in the cinema, and have watch both since numerous times again on DVD. The 2 more recent films of his that I really did not like were: State and Main (2000), although apparently everyone else thought it was great, and the absolutely putrid Edmond (2005), which I think was generally panned, and which I wish I could bleach away from my memory.

    So, a mixed bag, but the trend is going negative quickly. Thanks for taking this one for the team Daniel -- we've been duly warned. Seeing that his next screenplay listed in IMDB is "Joan of Bark: The Dog that Saved France" does not give me much hope for that one either (although I know nothing else about the film).

  7. In recent years I've only seen Mortimer in Lars and Match Point, but I'm pretty excited about her next few movies. I expect she'll break out a bit with Shutter Island.

    Well I didn't like State and Main either, but I really did not like Heist, though I've seen each only once. I don't think he's done much for me since The Edge, Ronin, and Wag the Dog. Something definitely went wrong in the last few years...

  8. I am intrigued by this. Not because of David Mamet, but because of my man Chitwetel Ejiofor.

    I keep hearing good things about this one, though.

  9. Like I say, Ejiofor makes it merely bad instead of being unbearably horrific. His American accent was even great, and I'm usually all over him for that. Dude is on the up and up.

    You just made me check it out on RT for the first time, DCgirl, and I'm really surprised. I was expecting a 40-something, not a 72%. Everybody's saying the same thing: honor, loyalty, greed, virtue, etc., etc., etc. And *SPOILER* yes, there's an interesting con going on. But seriously, people really enjoyed this? The ending was one of the worst of the year.

    Now that I've realized I'm in the minority on thinking this is bad, I wonder if Mamet fans should actually go see this. Like I said, I didn't like Heist, either, so maybe if you liked that, you'd like this, too.

    I stand by my bashing.

  10. Daniel, all these not-so-positive reviews for Redbelt are distressing me mightily. I love Mamet, I love his rhythmic, repetitive dialog and his cold, cynical view on life ... I have found something good in most of his movies, even though I agree that he's lost a step or three lately.

    I haven't given up on him yet, when it finally opens here in the wilds of Alabama, I'll probably be that last one standing (or sitting).

    I appreciate your thoughts, as always.

  11. Thanks, Rick. As I've realized, bigger Mamet fans than I may find this one enjoyable. The dialogue is definitely there (well there's a bit more action), but I was unmoved by the story and his love for Jiu-Jitsu.

    Go see it, Rick. I'll enjoy reading your review even if (actually, especially if) it's glowingly positive.

  12. Daniel - You're exactly right. I'm a big Mamet fan from way back in his theatre days, and I really liked this movie. I thought it was one of his best-plotted cons. As you point out, Ejiofor is phenomenal and worth the price of admission. Yes, it has a sports movie ending that strained credulity and Mamet's women are their usual ciphers, but I really was engrossed all the way. I hope people will go see it and judge for themselves.

  13. Thanks, Marilyn. We're on two different sides with this one, so clearly people will have to see it and judge for themselves!

    I'm glad I saw it to add another Ejiofor role to my list, but even that was no bargain at $9. Oh well, I've spent more on lesser films.

  14. I wasn't overly thrilled with Redbelt immediately leaving the theater, but after having it soak in I appreciate it a lot more.

    I felt some of the peripheral characters detracted from the story. A little snappier direction wouldn't have hurt either. Overall I was moderately pleased with Redbelt.

  15. Thanks for the visit, Waywardjam. A more positive reaction hasn't bubbled up within me yet, but I'll watch out for it.

    Yes, the direction and peripheral characters are really what did it in. Trim it down and clean it up and you've got at least a watchable movie. Maybe work on the last scene a little bit...

  16. Funny thing is my wife liked this way more than I did. Maybe her influence is shifting my opinion in some sort of osmotic way.

  17. Weird...that could make for an interesting movie, come to think of it.


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