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.