It’s February and everything sucks right now, so it’s time to unwind with February Fisticuffs – a punchy look at some of the best, worst and most average boxing, kung fu and martial arts movies.
Isaac Florentine helms Undisputed II: Last Man Standing, a hard-hitting sequel to Walter Hill’s 2002 original. Like its predecessor, this 2006 direct-to-video endeavour is a straightforward affair that leads to a main event. And like its predecessor, Undisputed II: Last Man Standing doesn’t have a lot of wasted motion.
This is a B-movie through and through and the focus is on the conflict between two men perceived to be the best in the business. The action is mostly confined behind bars. Unfortunately, Ross W. Clarkson’s lens sees fit to wander here and there. Sometimes he checks out the casinos and other facets of the criminal underbelly running the whole operation.
The picture finds George “Iceman” Chambers (Michael Jai White) in the Russian Federation filming a vodka commercial because he’s out of cash. He’s framed for cocaine possession and sent to prison, where it’s revealed that he’s been set up to make him fight the jail’s most dominant pugilist Yuri Boyka (Scott Adkins).
Boyka has been kicking ass and taking names in mixed martial arts fights orchestrated by the prison, which is run by the Russian mob. Chambers eventually relents and sets up for a rumble with Boyka, with mob boss Gaga (Mark Ivanir) hoping to profit from the throwdown. Chambers, together with his cellmate Steven (Ben Cross), tries to find a way to beat Boyka.
White has a hell of an act to follow taking over the Iceman from Ving Rhames, but he does an estimable job and plays the character as a more likable hero – after a while. Rough edges melt away under the tutelage of the enigmatic Crot (Eli Danker) and the Iceman even does something selfless at the end of the picture.
Adkins’ Boyka is the really impressive presence in Undisputed II: Last Man Standing. He is covered in tattoos and prays before he beats the shit someone. He demands a strong sense of loyalty. When his trainer accidentally cuts him removing his ring tape, he makes sure the daydreamer feels his pain.
Boyka is a beast in the ring and that’s where Undisputed II: Last Man Standing really takes off. There’s impressive snap to his movements. Each jump kick has a little extra decoration, like he’s put a bit more Khrenovina sauce on the dish before serving. His Guyver kick is something else.
The action in Undisputed II: Last Man Standing is less grounded than its predecessor, but it’s more rewarding. There’s more trickery, like the drugging of water, and more out-and-out brawls behind bars. The environment in the Russian jail is dark, dank and often smarmy. Some scenes literally take place in raw sewage.
The supporting characters have little impact, even though Ivanir’s Gaga is lugging the two combatants through the paces for a million reasons. Crot is captivating, but a late wrinkle feels tacked on and removes a lot of the mystery from the hirsute prisoner.
Undisputed II: Last Man Standing is a dynamic and enjoyable sequel to a surprising forerunner. It doesn’t have the depth to make points about class and power, but it makes up for it with some enormous fight sequences and some entertaining lead characters. And that damn Guyver kick is a sight to behold.