The Bloodsport franchise had managed the almost unthinkable – to have three martial arts movies in a row follow roughly the same continuity. But they took their eyes off the prize for the last one, having Daniel Bernhardt play a different character and have the entire film feel completely different to what came before it. But will it reach the heights of films 1 and 2, or manage to be worse than part 3?
John Keller (Bernhardt) is a cop who takes part in underground kumite events to keep himself sharp, accompanied by his partner, who looks like a busted Natasha Henstridge. Despite literally every kumite we’ve seen so far being full of death and absolute scumbags, Keller gets a sweet monologue in about not wanting to kill and honour and other such notions (the realisation that he’s a cop in a room full of people cheering on a potential murder is not really brought up). Later, answering a call from maybe the ugliest, most atmosphere-free bar in the Bulgarian town that’s subbing for the USA, they find a criminal who Keller had not only arrested years ago, but was supposed to have been executed, with the wonderful name Shrek.
All this leads Keller to go undercover at Fuego Penal, where there’s a really dirty low-rent fight club, and where inmates are executed at the whim of the Warden. He fakes their deaths and ships them off to the home of the wealthy and fairly insane Caesar, who organises fights to the death for the amusement of his (hopefully paying) guests. The Warden is absolutely sexually aroused by death and extreme violence, which definitely adds an odd layer to proceedings.
The first thing you’ll notice is how ugly everything is. This is partly due to them not bothering to find sets that looked remotely American, but a lot to do with the way it’s shot. Cinematographer George Mooradian is a regular of ISCFC enemy Albert Pyun, and had been working for a decade before this, so I’m not sure the sickness-inducing spinning camera shots, awful handheld work and bizarre zooms can be blamed on him – I’m laying it on writer/director Elvis Restaino, who made a couple of films in 1999 but never wrote or directed anything before or since. He strikes me as someone who had no idea of how to do anything, so threw everything at the wall to see what stuck – one really odd example is the Warden walking towards the camera, pausing right in front of it and breathing in a panicked fashion, his breath fogging up the lens.
It’s like he was expecting to make a surreal little movie and then decided at the last possible second to make a fourth Bloodsport. It’s full of religious imagery, and I think there are some dream sequences but they’re shot too much like the normal sequences; plus the inmates wear pretty stylishly cut jackets, and Caesar dresses like a French dandy from the 18th century. Too many ideas and not enough clue how to execute them, maybe? Too many ideas but none of them were any good? One idea which was as strange as I’ve ever seen was, right before the fighting starts at the last kumite, where all the dandy-dressed folks are about to start baying for blood, they have an Eastern-European-flavoured song and dance number. Wow!
The way the fights are shot also spoils them. Bernhardt is great, and there are some other fighters in there who really seem to know their stuff – plus there’s a couple of sequences that could have come straight from UFC, indicating MMA was at the height of its first flush of popularity. But the camerawork is trying to make it look ugly or expose the distance between fist and face, so a lot of it is tough to watch. But as if to get on the incompetence bandwagon, everyone else follows suit. The editor has decided to use multiple takes of some scenes, so despite us seeing a guy climb out of the ring before a fight, every third cut or so reveals him still stood there, watching things. A few of the actors look at the camera accidentally. Someone has a head injury, and the pressure pad is just stuck on top of their hair.
It’s not so much bad as, I can’t figure out why it was made. The idea of the kumite is a distant memory, and none of it feels “real” enough to get bothered about or unusual enough to just revel in.
Rating: thumbs down
PS. See if you notice anything unusual about the DVD covers for the three Bloodsport sequels.