ARENA has one of the most unoriginal premises available for a genre film after zombie-virus-ravages-the-world-small-group-of-survivors-try-to-stay-alive, in this case it is rich-douche-kidnaps-buff-guys-and-forces-them-to-fight-to-death-for-audience-of-jaded-idiots. Yeah, that
old chestnut. Of course being the 21st century the gladiatorial bouts are broadcast on the internet to a global audience (well, a japanese office worker and a group of idiot American college students). Do I really need to go into a synopsis? Well, okay then…
Buff fireman David Lord (Lutz, a staple of the TWILIGHT series) loses his pregnant wife in a car accident and goes off the deep end. After being picked up in a Mexican bar by the very attractive Milla (Katia Winter), he is zapped with a sonic stun gun and wakes up a prisoner of the flamboyantly evil Logan (Jackson). Logan operates a website where captive hunks are forced to duel to the death whilst reaping money from internet betting on the bouts.
This is the sort of thing done back in the late eighties/early nineties by people like Albert Pyun, except in those days the films starred Jean Claude Van Damme, rather than the walking MFI dining room table and chairs set that is Kellan Lutz. I was no fan of the cheapo Van Damage films of 20 years ago, but even CYBORG looks like a work of art in comparison to the wretched dreariness of ARENA. There is copious blood and gratuitous nudity, but the script, production values, and cast are anaemic. As an example of how cheap the film is, Logan’s super secret and warehouse sized control centre appears to be entirely operated by two Asian fetish models.
The fight scenes are pitiful. Director Loop, a former FX guy, tries to copy the style of Zak Snyder’s 300 or TV’s SPARTACUS but he makes such a mess of it that most of the bouts are barely shown. Lord is shown initially fighting in a green room onto which Logan can add CGI backgrounds for the punters watching online. This was clearly too visually dull for the producers, so suddenly this room becomes something akin to STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION’s holodeck. Of course this makes no sense at all. If the villain has managed to invent amazing technology that both doesn’t exist and is actually impossible, I think he wouldn’t need to be staging Ultimate Fighting bouts online for cash. Or maybe he needs money to cover the cost of his many embarrassing pimp outfits.
Of the apparently starry cast Samuel L. Jackson has more screen time than you might expect. However he isn’t even trying, just going through the motions of that shouty grinning thing he does. I had no idea he was this desperate for work, frankly this is the sort of film I would expect to see Michael Madsen in, not Nick Fury. Elsewhere Nina Dobrev from TV’s THE VAMPIRE DIARIES is listed as “also starring” but her character only manages to make if just past the credits before expiring. LOST’s Daniel Dae Kim is in it for about 5 minutes, and veteran tough guy James Remar (THE WARRIORS) may as well be a featured extra.
But the film is built around Lutz, clearly being positioned as a potential new action star. On this basis he isn’t the new Van Damme, hell he isn’t even the new Michael Dudikoff.
Utter crud, if you like this sort of thing there are literally hundreds of better versions of this exact same premise.
This review previously appeared on ScreenJabber.com