Professional MMA fighter with biceps the size of Sequoias wakes up next to a dead woman, a “one night stand.”
He’s black. She’s white. No, it doesn’t look good. Not to the cops, not to his “alibi” girlfriend, not to the press.
Did I mention the woman was a reporter?
Major style points shout-out to “A Violent Man” for getting down and dirty in and out of the Octagon. It’s a fight picture with an aging but deserving fighter trying to make the most of his “big break,” a grizzled, loyal trainer and manager in his corner, a brute of an opponent, a slippery manager for that opponent and a nasty strip club scene — mandatory in such movies.
And it’s got a murder, post coital death by strangulation.
Director and co-writer Matthew Berkowitz has the makings of a solid vehicle for Thomas Q. Jones, the best running back ever to come out of Big Stone Gap, Va. But Berkowitz’s film has pacing problems exacerbated by rather clumsy handling of the film’s “whodunit” and thriller elements.
We can figure out what’s up the moment the crime is reported, even if the anti-heroic hero can’t even recall if he actually did it.
Ty (Jones) has taken up MMA later in life, and at 34 he’s still hoping to get something out of his magnificent build. A chance visit by Marco Rayne, the champ (UFC fighter and veteran big-screen heavy Chuck Liddell) and his manager (Bruce Davison) in search of a sparring partner has Ty and his trainer, the gym owner Pete (Isaach De Bankolé of “Casino Royale,” “Night on Earth” and “Black Panther”) wondering where this could lead.
Maybe his girlfriend (Khalilah Joi) will get off his back about “our future” and his need to “get a REAL job.”
An impromptu bout gives them all their answer. Ty makes the Champ “tap out.” And it was caught on cell-phone video. Manager Ben Green (Davison, best known these days for his work in the “X-Men” movies) barely has time to put together a bribe and an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) before Ty can get the word out.
“I choked out the Champ!”
He takes the bribe and STILL meets with a reporter (Denise Richards) with a “thing” for fighters. She wants a demonstration of the choke hold. He’s not having it. Her promise to “keep your ass outta jail” has the ring of “famous last words.”
One position leads to another, and bingo — dead choking victim in bed, a guy who “choked out the Champ” is the only suspect.
“A Violent Man” stays interesting as the cagey, tricky trap-setting police investigation (Jon Sklaroff and Felisha Terrell play the cops) gets underway. We even follow the cops for a bit.
Then, they disappear. The urgency of the story flies out the window as the duplicitous Ty gets his dreamed-of title shot even as his world is supposedly crumbling around him. He’s got time to think of how he can make up with his girl, giving Pete his shot at managing a contender, all that. He should be afraid for his life.
The brawls, sex and interrogation scenes are well-handled. But if you don’t have the budget to stage a “title defense,” don’t show it. The fighting is passable, but the setting screams “We’re out of money.”
Jones had a role on the Marvel TV series “Luke Cage,” and has had bit parts in some movies. He’s got enough presence to graduate from “big threatening guy” roles and he shows us enough here to suggest he could go places.
Filmmaker Berkowitz? He might be worth watching, too. The dialogue works and the performances hold up. But with a background in editing, he’s still not showing us much command of story and pacing. Maybe next time, as this outing only achieves “close, but no title this time” status.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with graphic violence, explicit sex
Cast: Thomas Q. Jones, Chuck Liddell, Denise Richards, Bruce Davison
Credits: Directed by Matthew Berkowitz, script by Matthew Berkowitz and Justin Steele. A GVN release.
Running time: 1:47