Alright the whole marathon thing was delayed due to three straight days of Comic Con and work so I'm going to struggle hard to get caught up and back on track as I am absolutely determined to see this through until the very end!
Steve Austin (he has long dropped the Stone Cold) has long intrigued me as his direct to DVD output seems strong. I swear he gets a new one out every few months and they always seem like they could have some potential, I just never check them out. Well thanks to the 2 dollar DVD place I got my hands on this one, one of his earlier efforts I believe from 2009. I went in with low expectations (even though direct to DVD has proven multiple times that it can deliver the goods, I can’t help but always be wary) but I gotta say, I walked away reasonably impressed.
I knew absolutely nothing about the story and was actually a little bummed out to find that it focuses on underground street fighting. I’m fine with movies of that subject but having just watched Blood and Bone and Bloodsport (not being reviewed because I have seen it before) I was a little burnt out on the concept. Thankfully there are enough differences here to keep it fresh.
Unlike those two movies, this guy, John Brickner (now that’s a great main character name by the way) does not enter the fight scene willingly. After being released from prison, he runs into the widow of the man he choked to death to get put away. It turns out she was the one who wrote the parole board to get him released and now needs his help getting $250,000 to get her daughter a much needed heart transplant. John meets and befriends Reno and Frankie and they introduce him to the underground fighting scene which seems like John’s best bet to get the money in time.
There’s a surprisingly good story at work here which is definitely a nice change of pace as Blood and Bone and Bloodsport don’t feature much narrative beyond “I have to punch and kick this guy!” You continually learn more about the main characters. Their backstories, their motivations, their past mistakes, etc. They’re way more fleshed out than I was expecting and I was genuinely stunned that I cared more about what was happening to them than I did about the actual fighting. That’s never how it works!
The fights themselves perhaps aren’t overly exciting but they are at the very least well shot with a clear view of the action always provided. My biggest complaint is that coming off of movies like Blood and Bone which feature a higher level of fighting (double jump kicks man), this one is mostly just huge dudes punching each other with the occasional tackle thrown in for good measure. They aren’t the most cinematic fights by any stretch. I will give credit to Steve Austin for not playing up his ego and having him conquer each opponent with little to no opposition. This guy gets completely destroyed in these fights. I also enjoyed that each fight seemed to have its own unique theme. One has the opponents circled by angry dogs waiting to clamp their jaws around any limb that comes too close. Another takes place on top of a series of truck trailers. Then suddenly one of Brickner’s opponents is wielding a gigantic chain. Almost no context is ever given as these fights are usually part of a montage, but I liked that they switched it up and gave them some variety.
I’ve talked a few times In these action reviews that often it’s less about the lead being a good actor than it is about them having an engaging presence. People like Gina Carano fit that bill, whereas someone like say Howie Long or more recently (from what I’ve seen at least), John Cena, do not. Austin definitely has a presence, something I even remember from one of his few theatrical releases, The Condemned, a few years back. His character here isn’t simply a badass who spouts one liners, there’s some actual depth to it and Austin handles it well. He’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast and it says a lot that he is able to hold his own around them and not stand out as being the weak link in the acting chain. It definitely makes me want to check out some more of his stuff.
Damage exceeded my expectations by providing a fighting movie where the story and characters are surprisingly strong and are the primary reasons the movie held my interest. The actual fights are adequate but it’s the tale surrounding it that makes me recommend this movie.