What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: Josh C. Waller
Run time: 95 minutes
The Lowdown: Underground fight club movies have become an action cliché ever since “Fight Club” burst onto screens back in the late 1990s.
Most of these movies feature former or current MMA competitors or professional wrestlers. They all follow a basic premise – retired fighter gets goaded into returning to the ring to either a) save a loved one from having to fight or b) needing to raise enough money to provide for his family or c) exact revenge for the death of a loved one who was forced to fight.
“Raze” flips the script, literally.
For one, it features an all-female cast of fighters. For another, the fights are among the best ever put on film.
Each of the women being kept captive in an undisclosed, underground lair has been lured there by deception. Some were found online through dating websites, targeted because they professed an appreciation for kick boxing as a hobby. Others were targeted because they have a vulnerability that can be exploited.
The women are videotaped and broadcast by live stream fighting to the death for the enjoyment of wealthy patrons who wear elegant gowns and black-tie tuxedos to dine on exquisite foods while watching the carnage.
Zoë Bell, the New Zealand-born stunt actress known best for handling stunt duties on “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Kill Bill,” is Sabrina, a single mother who gave up her child.
Each of the women is told unceremoniously that if they refuse to fight, their loved ones will be killed. To reinforce this message, video footage is shown of their loved one sleeping or shopping, unaware they are being watched.
The story follows the women as they battle it out and interact with their captors. Alliances are formed. A big bad enemy takes center stage.
It’s pure genre goodness to its core, but the most striking aspect of “Raze” is the emotional punch, pun intended, that it packs. You feel sympathy for the fighters. You care what happens to them. And you are caught unprepared by the sheer viciousness of their combat.
This isn’t foxy boxing or oil wrestling or any of the other softcore titillation that studios released in the 1980s during the heyday of VHS.
These fights feel and look real. You wince watching. You look away, but only for a second.
If “The Raid” redefined what an action movie can be, then “Raze” completely reimagines what a fight movie can be.
It’s smart, visceral, unflinchingly violent and unapologetically brutal.
It’s just so damn good.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Brutally realistic.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn play the defacto “hosts” for this underground fight tournament watched by wealthy patrons.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Grand Piano (Magnolia Pictures, 90 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Part giallo-homage, part new-wave thriller, “Grand Piano” takes what should be an interminable plot device – a solo pianist returning to the stage to try and complete the most difficult piece of music ever composed, the only piece he ever flubbed – and ramps up the tension by adding a better-than-he’s-been-in-years John Cusack as a sniper hiding out in a balcony alcove, offering quips and threats through an earpiece in the pianist’s ear, letting him know that one wrong note and a bullet will zip through the air into his brain.
Also Available: “3 Days to Kill,” “Lone Survivor,” “The Monuments Men,” “Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World,” “Happy Days: The Fifth Season,” “House of Dust,” “Mischief Night,” “McCanick,” “Garage Sale Mischief,” “The Right Kind of Wrong,” “Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley,” “Pompeii 3D,” “Mountain Men: Season 2,” “Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre”