Directed by Declan Mulvey
Written by Christopher Curran, Joe Miale, Declan Mulvey
Produced by Declan Mulvey, Taylor Phillips, Anisa Qureshi
Starring Andre McCoy, Daz Crawford, Anthony Ray Parker, Paul Green, Samantha Alarcon, Vishnu Seesahai
Release date: May 13, 2008
Each year, an unlicensed fight tournament is held in the basement of a criminal syndicate’s high-rise office building. But this year the stakes are higher as Mick and Martin, the two men responsible for finding the fighters and one time rivals in the ring, are forced by their boss to put a personal wage on the match. Each man is to pick a fighter, and the loser must walk away from the organization forever. Martin, a crooked cop with an even more crooked crew, “borrows” a psychotic killer from a local holding cell as his man, while Mick searches high and low through the local rings for someone he can believe in.
Meanwhile, a lone figure has returned from his mountain retreat to once again fight in the ring. Zendo, the self-anointed warrior priest, is out to avenge the death of his brother, and claim back a title that should have been his to begin with. As fight time closes in, so too does Zendo come closer to the truth about his murdered brother. And while Mick is coming to grips with the fact that maybe he’s being played as a heel, Martin has set up a double-cross to ensure his fighter wins the competition!
It has been a very, very long time since this blend of macho posturing, testosterone-pumped melodramatic rivalry and Z-level line delivery has been seen outside an extended WWE storyline or possibly the reality television series The Ultimate Fighter. Fueled by corny dialogue and even cornier fight sequences, this is an enjoyable mess of a movie that is determined to keep the belief alive that when a title is dumped straight-to-video, or in this case dumped straight-to-DVD, there is a very good reason.
Like something out of the Wu-Tang Clan’s wet dream, this is the ultimate blend of urban lifestyle stereotypes with its flashy cars, wicked thumping beats, and gratuitous nudity along with bone-crunching martial arts fight sequences and a sense of honor and duty. At the helm of this mash-up is first time director Declan Mulvey, who wobbles with a balancing act between glossy hip hop video esthetics and the dirty basement grime of unlicensed bar brawling, works very hard at hiding his lack of experience with post-production tricks and editing.
This lack of experience shows through the most during the fight sequences, which ramp up in frequency and intensity as the movie draws to its conclusion. Mulvey has a small armada of excellent professional fighters at his disposal, including accomplished martial artist Andre McCoy (Lawrence Fishburne’s stunt double in The Matrix) and former Royal Air Force member Daz Crawford (Deisel from the original American Gladiators show). These martial artists do this absolute best in bringing their training to the screen, though for the most part Mulvey is unsure how to utilize their intensity and often times turns to quick edits and overly flashy camera work. In spite of this, the fight sequences remain the best part of the film, but that really isn’t saying much.
Mulvey, along with his co-writers Christopher Curran and Joe Miale, work toward bridging the honor and betrayal similarities of modern street life with ancient Zen teachings, but never come close to motifs that have already been dissected in Ghost Dog. Whether they were trying to reclaim that mantel from Jim Jarmusch or not is unclear, but the intention does seem to come out most in the scenes revolving around the mysterious fighter Zendo. What does seem clear from the script is that the writers had a checklist of “things to do” within the movie to appeal to the most base crowd.
Despite the shortcomings of the movie, and its blatant attempt to somehow blend the best/worst of Spike TV with BET, there is an enjoyable element to this that can only be shared when in the company of friends, a cold twelve-pack of beer and a sharp sense of humor. Just brace yourself for the acting inabilities of Samantha Alarcon, whose irritating vocals will make you drive a Q-tip into your eardrums, and you’ll be alright.
On second thought, better make that a case of beer.
TKO, which was originally titled Urban Assault before being picked up by Lionsgate, is brought to DVD with an anamorphic widescreen presentation along with a bass-heavy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided, along with two trailers for the film that make up the otherwise non-existent extras.