“Undisputed” fails to land knockout punch

By Gus Bode

2 1/2 Gus Heads

Running Time 96 minutes

If you ever wanted to see what Mike Tyson would be like in a movie, now is the time to go to the theatre.

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Undisputed pairs Ving Rhames as the world heavyweight champion boxer James ‘Iceman’ Chambers and Wesley Snipes as Munroe Hutchens, a boxer that could have been champ before he went to jail.

To say that Chambers is merely based on Mike Tyson would be a gross understatement. Chambers is Tyson with the exception of the high-pitched voice and the gold tooth. Rhames’ character has a controversial rape conviction in the height of his career that sends him to Sweetwater Prison. Inside the prison, a boxing program lets inmates duke it out with one another every six months. The king of the ring in the prison is Munroe Hutchens, who probably would have faced Chambers on the outside had he not beaten his wife’s lover to death ten years earlier.

The movie kicks off with Hutchens in one of the prison boxing matches, beating the tar out of some meat bag. A lot of quick edits go on with freeze frames showing the main characters and type on the screen showing their names and what they are in for. It is an informative but annoying effect, and overall the editing in this movie is lacking. The fight scenes are great though. The two real boxing scenes in this film are what an interested moviegoer would catch this flick for.

Chambers has won 68 matches in a row, and is undisputed. The very next day Chambers arrives at the prison, and soon lets everyone know that there is only one champ, inside or out. Although technically Chambers isn’t supposed to be able to do anything for the first six months of his sentence, Emmanuel ‘Mendy’ Ripstein, an aging mob boss, and fanatical boxing fan played by Peter Falk, begins organizing a fight between the two pugilists.

The subplots within the movie, be it mob tie-ins or fights started constantly by the Iceman, are fairly stale. For much of the film’s running time it is a fairly average prison film. Many of the scenes could have been whisked away from episodes of HBO’s “Oz” where the prison genre is done better anyway. Walter Hills’ directing is fairly boring overall, and can be slow and sticky at times.

Once viewers manage to get through the interlude between fights, their vigilance is rewarded. Mendy Ripstein is able to get the fight going despite some roadblocks, and it’s going to be done his way.

Ripstein spends most of his time reminiscing about Joe Louis fights from the thirties. He decides that the fight will be done according to London Prize Fight Rules from the 1800s; this means bare knuckles, and a round doesn’t end until someone is knocked down. While Chambers’ manager convinces Ripstein to let the fighters use gloves, the ones they get are tiny six-ounce gloves from the old days. The unusual rules make the playing field even for both fighters, and both have a lot to gain. Hutchens will get enough money to make his family on the outside rich, and Chambers will become a free man because of mob influence on the parole board.

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The fight is without a doubt the best part of the movie. Camera work switches from mundane to exciting as shots are made through the bars of the prison ring. The fight also has some of the most exciting parts filmed in black and white, a homage to “Raging Bull.” The movie even gets some comic relief during the fight scene with Ed lover as an over the top prisoner turned ring announcer.

“Undisputed” is one part bad prison movie and one part good boxing movie. It’s a good movie to catch if you like boxing films, or if you want to see how much “Iceman” Chambers resembles Mike Tyson. The film moves very quick and is lean and cut down at 96 minutes, but even that is going to be a long time if you are there to see prison plot lines instead of good boxing scenes.

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