David Mamet’s Redbelt offers more of the same stilted dialogue and convoluted narrative for which the playwright-director is famous. Again Mamet takes a classic noir conceit—here, the boxing film—and makes it contemporary (Redbelt is about jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts), configuring it both as a parody of Hollywood brass and, consequently, as an allegory for the struggle of the principled individual against the capitalist system.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, respected owner of an L.A. jiu-jitsu school, who finds himself caught up in a series of events set off by a mysterious, harried woman (Emily Mortimer) who bursts into his school one night and nearly shoots one of his students. Terry’s adherence to the philosophy of his sport—he doesn’t teach people to fight, but to “prevail”—is already wearing on his wife (Alice Braga), who struggles to balance his books, but the incident leads them both to a sudden stroke of good fortune: a run-in with a well-connected celebrity (Tim Allen), which is followed by successive challenges bigger than anything either of them has ever faced.
Redbelt is partly inspired by Mamet’s own experiences with jiu-jitsu (his teacher of six years, Renato Magno, is in the film), and this doesn’t help it much. Mamet’s frequently intelligent sarcasm and detachment is not applied to Terry, whose spiritualism—portrayed as a touchstone of enlightened masculinity—seems totally corny. Redbelt’s hilariously improbable plot twists do give it a bit of ironic pizzazz (most of its cast, including Ricky Jay and Joe Mantegna, join Mortimer in delivering their lines with a self-aware smirk). Yet by its end, unlike with Mamet’s State and Main and The Spanish Prisoner, Redbelt is aggressively pursuing a boring, life-affirming message—one uncannily similar to that of this year’s other, crasser fight movie, Never Back Down.
Redbelt is now playing at the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto (259 Richmond St. W.), the Varsity (55 Bloor St. W.), Canada Square (2190 Yonge St.) and others.