Monday 18 June 2012

Review: Arena

Year: 2011 (U.K Release 2012)
Director; Jonah Loop
Screenplay: Tony Giglio
Starring: Kellan Lutz, Samuel L Jackson

Synopsis is here:

Arena reminds me once again; that while Samuel L Jackson can make Quentin words sing, give him the cash and he'll be in damn near anything. Yes, the world's highest grossing actor certainly knows how to pick his movies. One look at his filmography; details a man whose done nearly everything and worked with damn near everyone. Yes, he made it big with Tarantino, but look further back to see him on projects with the likes of Milo Foreman, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Phillip Noyce. Leap past 1993 (Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park) and see the list of notable names continue, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Sodenbergh, William Friedkin to name a few. A true elitist snob may sneer at such a populist line up but to a man whose favourite film is House Party, the list is pretty impressive. So impressive, that it's a shame to see Jackson lend his name  t a film that can't be bothered to name him in the opening credits.

It's not like Arena makes a secret of Jackson's involvement. His face is smugly plastered on the cover of the DVD (or lovefilm download), he's the first famous face you see within the film (first two minutes) and he's certainly credited at the end of the film. But no, the "bad motherfucker" gives away his name sake for Kellan Lutz, as this appear to be a vehicle for him. That's pretty good going, considering Jackson stood firm on his wish for a purple lightsabre. 

I've blathered about Jackson for two reasons, the first being that Jackson's performance is the best thing about Arena. The second reason is quite simply for a man of such considerable talent and presence (his performance as a crack addict in Jungle Fever is really something) I find it astonishing that Jackson is willing to grace his presence in something so tepid. 

Arena looks like it wants to update The Running Man premise in the similar way that the risible Gamer wished to. Now with the Internet so open and uncensored to everyone, the film's main conceit is that an illegal gladiator style combat arena would thrive due to the lack of restriction the Internet has. The idea isn't new, and similar threads can be found in the likes of Hostel, The Hunger Games or the aforementioned Gamer.

The problem with Arena is that it trite, corny, unexciting and not at all interesting in the slightest. Does it want to be a satire? If so then it's not sharp enough. Show masses of people garnered around to watch such death games is one thing, but when the images are so dislocated from the rest of the film, they give no true contribution. Wow, college kids watch graphic content on the Internet. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if the film didn't just show us such scenes, for the sake of showing it. It postures and pretends to comment but literally has nothing to say. 

That's fine, so then does the film wish to be a proper vehicle for it's twilight star Lutz? Possibly, but it doesn't show him in a great light. It may be some of the mealy mouthed dialogue that he has to spout, but it could also be due to the fact that Lutz himself doesn't stand out despite being in every scene of the film. Out of the four other films I've seen, in which he featured, he has made little to no impact. I do not remember him in those films and despite his model looks, he does nothing to change my feelings for him as a performer. Jackson tries to carry him but there's only so much energy one can give and scenes continuously fall flat. 

Does the film transpire to just a good old fashioned B-movie actioner? Well it exploits enough women to almost achieve this? Arena is a film in which women are either scheming (often naked) servants to the film's predictable plot/shirtless man, wordless prostitutes or teenage girls who are either hushed (because violence is more interesting) or mocked due to their dislike of graphic violence. The violence itself? Well would you rather watch a repetitive montage set to generic rock? Or would you rather watch The Raid? An action film should excite with it's set pieces despite other flaws, which this does not.

It could be easy to lash out at Arena because it's a video release (no theatrical) but Arena gets no love as it's a toothless bore. Those more versed in such action features will roll their eyes at it's cheesy, on rails plotline and be switched off by it's bog standard action. Every so often, you can find Samuel L "slumming it" in productions like this. But considering the movie star he is, it doesn't particularly matter. He can pick what he want and rake in billions with Marvel, this won't even make it as a footnote of his cinematic achievements.