Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Rob Hawk's Fight Valley

Cody steps into the ring with Fight Valley, now available on VOD.

Writer/director Rob Hawk's Fight Valley is a film that shares its plot with countless B-level action movies that have come before it: an ambitious fighter is murdered by an opponent, so their sibling follows them into the fighting world to figure out who killed them and to get revenge/justice. That's how this film caught my attention in the first place - the idea that this could be the modern day equivalent to some of the low rent action movies that I grew up watching and have a strong affinity for. What sets Fight Valley apart from most of its predecessors is the fact that all of the main characters are female, and its greatest marketing draw is the fact that its cast includes some of the most popular women fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship today: Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, and Cris Cyborg.

I know nothing about the UFC, but I know plenty about B-movies starring real life professional fighters, so I put Fight Valley on with enthusiasm.

The titular "Fight Valley" is a section of Camden, New Jersey where, at least in Hawk's version of the city, all of the young girls in the area seem to be either participating in underground fights, dreaming of being a fighter, or just being fighter groupies. Among the ranks of women trying to work their way up through street fights into actual ring matches is 22-year-old Tori Coro (Chelsea Durkalec), who idolizes a fighter known as "Jabs" (Miesha Tate). After seeking training help from Jabs and being rejected - Jabs doesn't train other fighters, she fights because she's angry and likes beating people up - Tori switches her immediate focus to raising money so she can move out of her father's place in Camden and get an apartment with her girlfriend Duke (Erin O'Brien).

On her quest for cash, Tori runs into the wrong people and ends up dead. Typically characters who need avenged in this type of movie get killed (or seriously injured) fairly early on, and this is where Fight Valley started disappointing me a bit. It took too long getting to Tori's murder, packing the first 20 minutes with what felt like unnecessary scenes, spending too much time getting across information that could have been delivered in a more quick and simple manner.

With Tori out of the picture, enter her 30-year-old sister Windsor (Susie Celek), who has had a much better life because she went with their mother (Bonnie Bruderer, an actress who looks young enough to play Windsor's best friend rather than her mother) when their parents divorced instead of their father (Salvatore Franciosa). Windsor is a reporter who investigates criminal cases, so she takes it upon herself to solve her sister's murder... and in the course of doing so, she enters the underground fighting world that Tori was mixed up in.

Feeling guilt over the death of Tori, Jabs agrees to give Windsor some training so she'll survive the mission she's on, training that largely consists of lifting and punching bags of ice. Windsor will need some fighting skills, because she's on a collision course with a Brazilian ass-kicking machine called Church, a character who is played by Cris Cyborg and distractingly wears a shirt promoting CrisCyborg.com. Apparently Church is a fan of Cris Cyborg, who just happens to be her exact clone.

Fight Valley's story is truly well-worn, but this is no Kickboxer, and as the film goes along it becomes more and more apparent that Hawk wasn't aiming at delivering something like that. There is plenty of tough talk and scuffles, and Holly Holm shows up just long enough to have a proper ring fight with Tate/Jabs, but this is more similar to a made-for-TV drama than an entry in the Bloodfist franchise. The stretch of movie building up to the loss of Tori isn't a sign that Hawk wasn't following the formula properly, it's an indication that he was doing something different here. He was trying to tell an emotionally effective story that occasionally breaks out into violence, a commendable approach that doesn't totally work because I wasn't pulled in by the drama and the fight scenes aren't particularly interesting or exhilarating. Despite the pedigree of the women involved, the fighting aspect was underwhelming.

A lot of the acting on display here is underwhelming as well, which is why the dramatic aspect didn't matter all that much to me. Tate does hold some promise of being an action star, though, and I think she could make a go of this with the right material. She could carry films that are better assembled than this one, which is about on par with the average amateur film. From the look and feel of this movie, you wouldn't expect known names to be in the cast. As for the other UFC stars, Cyborg isn't exactly convincing, and the self-promotion in her wardrobe is off-putting, while Holm gets off light, since all she has to do is fight. Her part doesn't really require any acting.

If you're a fan of Tate, Cyborg, and/or Holm, Fight Valley is worth taking a look at, but I think it's going to be a letdown for a lot of viewers who think it might be a cool action movie. I went into Fight Valley hoping to see something that would live up to the fight tournament/revenge films of the '80s - early '90s, and it doesn't. It's not the sort of movie I had in my head. It's not bad, it's interesting while it's going on, but anyone who decides to give it a watch should go in with tempered expectations. Characters toss around heated dialogue exchanges more than they throw punches.

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