Tribeca ’08: Redbelt (review)

Breathe. Breathe. There is always a way out.

Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor: American Gangster) is perfectly happy with life as the owner and instructor at a little Los Angeles martial arts gym, even if the business is going down the tubes, until the day a strange confluence of events introduces him to aging action star Chet Frank (Tim Allen: Wild Hogs), who needs a combat consultant on his new flick. And so Mike gets seduced by the siren call of Hollywood. But wait! There’s more. David Mamet (Spartan), in his latest as writer-director, has crafted a tale of corruption and nastiness as endemic to the twisted human spirit, weaving in all manner of seemingly loose threads about a troubled lawyer (Emily Mortimer: Lars and the Real Girl), a cop with money problems (Max Martini: The Great Raid), a crooked promoter of mixed martial arts fights (Ricky Jay: The Prestige), and, well, that’s just the beginning. The longer you trust that Mamet is going to bring all these disparate elements together in something satisfying, the more you’ll be crushed when the film, which is always teetering on the edge of preposterousness, finally tumbles over that edge. Excellent performances from a cast forced to deal with Mamet’s unnatural dialogue — and doing it convincingly — can’t make up for how forcibly constructed the plot feels, even when it’s crashing, as if even the crash were intentional.

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