Film Reviews

REDBELT

By • May 9th, 2008 •

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A Gandhi-like martial arts teacher gets hoodwinked by Hollywood.

I’m having an ongoing ugly fight with a martial arts school here in Las Vegas. I should have done due diligence before a family member signed up. This jui-jitsu school supposedly is highly respected in the MA community. Unfortunately, money is the real motive, not training. The base course at the academy for 50 lessons, according to a letter sent by the assistant manager, is “six thousand dollars”. That is $120.00 per lesson. When a white belt, who had to make calls to a far more advanced teacher for instructions, handled the private classes, it was time to leave and demand the school return the 3 months of fees they demanded in advance.*

Since when is bullying a part of martial arts training?

While this expensive experience will never be resolved, nor the anger dulled, I went to see David Mamet’s REDBELT about a marital arts teacher who does not wear a gee ever, or have his students address him as “sensei”. No one bows upon entering and exiting the dojo. Huh?

I recently read “Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business” by David Mamet (Published by Random House). Who doesn’t love the volatile, verbal anarchist Alec Baldwin played in the film version of Glengarry? While Mamet is clearly a film auteur, what possessed him to write the messy, improbable REDBELT?

Mike “Gandhi” Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofer), is a jiu-jitsu teacher who runs a storefront school in Los Angeles with his unhappy Brazilian wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), who is the academy’s bookkeeper. Terry cares only about the honor of his school and the sacred principles of marital arts. He cares nothing about money!

The last time the stars were aligned just right, Three Wise Men from Persia journeyed to Jerusalem to worship the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Too many bizarre coincidences line up in REDBELT that sets up the story. A frantic woman, Laura Black (Emily Mortimer), running around in the pouring rain looking, I think, for an on-the-down-low pharmacist who will accept a suspicious prescription for something, for somebody, runs into Terry’s school. In a weird move she grabs a gun lying around and nearly kills a cop – one of Terry’s students. The crazy lady shoots out the glass window and leaves. Does Terry care about the cost of replacing the window? Nope. He’s channeling Gandhi.
Having a drink at a local bar, Terry jumps in on a fight and helps a famous-faced movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen), who happens to be in the neighborhood slumming sans bodyguard. Terry gets a knife wound and, in appreciation, is given a $20,000 gold watch and an invitation to Frank’s house. Frank’s wife and her friends tell Sondra they will help her with her fledging fashion business and she promptly borrows $30,000 from a loan-shark to buy fabric.
While Terry’s business bills are mounting and Sondra owes $30,000, Terry gives away the watch to the cop-student to pawn. Sondra’s brother never paid him for some off-duty bouncer work at his nightclub. Turns out it’s a stolen watch and the cop is suspended from the police force.
When Frank offers Terry a chance to play “producer” and review his film’s shooting script for marital arts authenticity, Terry doesn’t bother with a contract. He quickly gives away all his training secrets. The production takes his training methods and dumps him.
Terry has only one thing to do – accept Sondra’s brother, Bruno Silva’s (Rodrigo Santoro) offer to fight in a mixed martial arts under-card tournament and perhaps win $50,000. But, according to Mamet, the mixed martial arts world is not “kosher.”
Ejiofor is noble, Mortimer is miscast, and Santoro is dazzling. Allen, Mortimer, and Braga’s characters are underwritten and their motives undeveloped. Why did the movie star’s wife stiff Sondra? No one will understand Mortimer’s character’s behavior. While Allen is just fine, the rest of Mamet’s cast is from his stable of players – Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon. The worst scene is at the movie star’s house, where everyone is adlibbing the same lines over and over again. Was this scene directed by one of the assistants?
I don’t know what jui-jitsu school Mamet trains with. Could someone send me the name of his teacher?

*On some websites the school’s teacher was called “a classic scam artist who wants cash.” And, another poster wrote: “All he did was hound me for money.” There was more. “He has promoted only one black belt. Its white belts teaching white belts. There was indeed a constant demand for more money.” All these posts have now been removed. The community takes care of it’s own.

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