Redbelt (2008)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
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Overall Rating 67%
Overall Rating
Ranked #2,826
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Max Martini
Max Martini
Matt Cable
Matt Cable
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Alice Braga
Alice Braga
Jose Pablo Cantillo
Jose Pablo Cantillo
Review by bluemeanie
Added: May 19, 2008
In the world of writing, there are few who garner the same attention and respect as David Mamet. Whether it be theatre or film, David Mamet has become one of the most creative and ingenious forces in entertainment today with his realistic writing style and attention to verbal detail. As a director, he has tried his hand at every genre, from dramas like "The Spanish Prisoner" and "The Winslow Boy" to thrillers like "Heist" and "Spartan" and comedies like "State and Main". As a writer, he has also given us scripts for films such as "The Verdict", "Uncle Vanya", "Hoffa", "Wag the Dog", "Ronin" and the recent "Edmond". So, why did I hate "Redbelt" so much?

In yet another star-making performance, Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Mike Terry, a Jiu-Jitsu instructor who teaches police officers how to be more assertive and regular people to be able to defend against anything and always achieve the upper hand. As he says, he teaches people to prevail. Early on, a frantic young woman (Emily Mortimer) accidentally runs into Mike's car, which eventually leads her to accidentally firing a pistol and shattering the window of the studio. This sets the stage for a series of events that form the major plot details. Later, Mike stumbles into a bar owned by his brother-in-law (Rodrigo Santoro) where he defends a popular movie star, Chet Frank (Tim Allen). Chet takes a liking to Mike, and along with his agent (Joe Mantegna), invites Mike to be a producer on his latest film. Turns out, however, that Mike is just being used for his Jiu-Jitsu knowledge. A ruthless fight promoter (Ricky Jay) takes this knowledge and uses it to make money, giving Mike a very difficult ethical dilemma which leads to the final walk to the ring.

That plot line might actually sound interesting if it made any sense whatsoever in the picture. I have never seen a major motion picture release with this many holes in the plot. I left the theatre feeling as if the theatre might have dropped a reel or something. The only character given any sort of development is the character of Mike, but Mamet keeps mentioning these things from his past that are never given any further explanation, though we both want and need them. There is a twist at the end of the picture involving Mike's wife (Alice Braga), but it comes out of nowhere and we feel like Mamet left a scene out accidentally or something showing us why that happened. We are never told whether or not the Chet Frank character was involved in the conspiracy, we are never told just whose idea the conspiracy was or why it started in the first place; and, we were never ever told why Emily Mortimer slaps Chiwetel Ejiofor outside the arena at the end of the film. If there truly are no missing reels, then David Mamet has delivered the worst directed mainstream film of the last decade. He shows better than this. I saw "State and Main" and "Heist". Sure, "Heist" was not a perfect film, but at least the holes in the plot were not very large. Here, you could toss canyons through them. "Redbelt" makes no sense because Mamet directed it to make no sense. The big problem is that I don't know if he directed it that way intentionally, or by accident.

As bad as this film is, Chiwetel Ejiofor is still quite good in it. He doesn't play the role with that same 'determined black man' mentality as Denzel Washington might have. He plays Mike Terry as a very normal guy who just happens to have an extraordinary ability. Tim Allen is also quite good in this dramatic turn, but he's given next to nothing to do. I wanted to see more of him and his interactions with Mike. Joe Mantegna and David Paymer are wasted in very small roles, and who told Rodrigo Santoro he was a better actor than a model? He's not. Even Ricky Jay seems like he doesn't know what he's saying or why he's saying it. When Ricky Jay is mediocre in a film, you know the director has to be doing something wrong. But, despite Ejiofor and Allen, the performers are not enough to raise this script and this film out of the muck. "Redbelt" is just not very good. Mamet is usually always dependable for a solid script, and even the written word here is as dull as can be. It has none of the same pop and jazz as Mamet's scripts usually have.

This was the disappointment of the year, hands down. To see a director and writer like David Mamet lower himself to this kind of material is just unfortunate. The idea was a good one. It could have been well executed, but Mamet obviously didn't know how to make that happen. What he did was assemble a thread-bare script and then attempt to direct a genre he knew nothing about making work. "Redbelt" left everyone in my audience feeling confused, like we had missing this big plot point, but knowing we had been paying close attention throughout. If he did all of this on purpose, he made one of the worst directorial choices I have ever seen. If he didn't do it on purpose, he made one of the worst directorial choices I have ever seen. There's no way he can come out a winner on this one. What surprises me is that some people have been giving this picture positive reviews. Did they see the same film? They couldn't have. This also lends credit to my whole 'missing reel' theory. Maybe that's why "Redbelt" was so bad. The good parts are on the cutting room floor.

bluemeanie #1: bluemeanie - added 05/19/2008, 05:46 PM
Let me repeat -- this is as much a David Mamet film as "Operation Dumbo Drop".
grain of sand #2: grain of sand - added 05/19/2008, 06:07 PM
Bummer, iFC and Mamet made this out to be a masterpiece, I was looking forward to it.
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