4 out of 5
Directed by: Todor Chapkanov
For a great and interesting analysis of how this 4th-in-the-series Undisputed film reads in context of the other movies, there’s this excellent birthmoviesdeath review / article on Adkins and the movie. For those of us skipping ahead to this film, liking our spin-kicking, fit leading man and that the movie was easily streamable, one opinion follows…
At a surface level, there’s not much to elevate Boyka from a B-movie fightfest. Yuri Boyka (Adkins) is kicking lots of ass in a lower tier MMA fighting circuit in the Ukraine, making scary faces and yelling about being ‘The Most Complete’ fighter post smacking up his foes. Some bits and pieces of flashbacks and dialogue along the way let us know – again, without Undisputed 2 and 3 in our viewing history – that Boyka has something of a shady past, but he’s making good with his fights, and trying to stay on the side of right by donating his winnings to the church. His ultimate quest, though, is to be legit in his sport, so when news of the opportunity to move up to the big leagues based on his next match comes up, he goes in hard. And wins! …And kills his opponent. While his manager is keen to shrug this off as just something that can happen, Yuri spirals out a bit, and decides to travel to Russia – where he’s a wanted man – to inform the wife of his opponent, Alma (Teodora Duhovnikova) of his crime. He makes the trip; he makes his apology; she doesn’t want to hear it. Fair enough, but when Boyka sees that she’s having to work off her husband’s debt for local mobster Zourab (Alon Moni Aboutboul), he makes a deal to fight in Zourab’s local ring in exchange for ditching Alma’s debt.
Sure, that’s a lot of explanation for a B-movie, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. A reason for fights; a morality play that allows a bad guy to be good. That this is Adkins (and that one of his regular directors, Isaac Florentine, produced, and may have co-directed) lets you know the choreography and stuntwork is going to be entertaining, but even on that level, the film is extra impressive, with the series of fights – almost all in the ring with different opponents – varied without having to go to silly extremes, and the camerawork is perfect, doing slo-mo in just the right amount, and swirling around the ring in a clear, concise way to keep us in the action but not disoriented. The scripting even goes a step further by including some plotting elements during these scenes, with Boyka having to decide between his more animalistic nature, his quest to be the best, and his hope for redemption.
We’re already above par. But Undisputed 4 is just as worthwhile during its inbetween moments. Adkins, a capable actor, is given some surprisingly well written monologues for his character – again on the theme of redemption – which he delivers with affecting sincerity. Duhovnikova’s Alma has to play the half hate / half appreciative role, but again, the cards aren’t over played, and the actress finds the right balance for it. And Aboutboul’s Zourab is wonderfully slimy. The interactions swirling around these characters almost always make sense (later in the film, it seems like writers David White and Tony Mosher realized Zourab wasn’t evil enough, so kind of unfortunately forced him into being sexually aggressive toward Alma as well), and the script isn’t in a hurry to toss in unnecessary action – scenes that would often prompt a mini-battle in other movies are put to rest quickly with a glare or single punch from Boyka.
Does any of this make the movie Oscar bait? Well, no, of course not. Again, you’ve seen this before, and the movie is still, ultimately, about dem fight scenes. But this is a really well made B-movie, fully realizing what it wants to be and benefiting from a great lead, who’s probably had a chance to develop this role in those other two movies I should see…