Arena Wars Image

Arena Wars

By Bobby LePire | June 5, 2024

Arena Wars is a unique fusion of a prison fighting ring film, sci-fi, and dark comedy. The creative minds of Brandon Slagle, Sonny Mahal, and Michael Mahal have crafted a story that tries to weave these genres together. Does this fusion of futuristic setting, comedy, and action make for a refreshing addition to one’s movie night, or is this a predictable entry in an overdone subgenre?

Set in the year 2045, the most popular television show is Arena Wars. The concept is simple yet brutal: death row inmates engage in mortal combat for the entertainment of the masses. The sole survivor of each tournament is granted freedom, while commentator Samson (Michael Madsen) adds a touch of wit with his snarky remarks. The latest lineup features Perez (Robert LaSardo), Goldie (Greg Tally), Titus (Darryl Goldberg), Cammy (Alena Dawn), Snapper (Rudy Ledbetter), and former special forces soldier Luke (John Wells). As they train and prepare for their fights, the group’s dynamics and personal stories unfold.

Before long, the truth that Luke is completely innocent and took the fall for a commanding officer comes to light. Surprisingly, the show’s producers believe this is excellent news, as it could boost ratings. Executive producer Belladonna (Kevin Hager) plans how to use Luke for his own ends, leveraging the soldier’s wife in the process. Luke is afraid this news will derail his true mission, though Admiral Jordan (Eric Roberts) assures him that will not be the case. Why did Luke go to jail on someone else’s behalf? Can he survive the onslaught of fatal fights he’s about to participate in?

“…death row inmates engage in mortal combat for the entertainment of the masses.”

Arena Wars is a total blast from start to finish. It’s true that if your character name isn’t Luke, Samson, or head of show security Domino (Mercedes Peterson), then you have about as much depth as a napkin. Even then, Samson is probably only as memorable as he is because Madsen’s performance is so terrifically off-kilter. However, Luke is a complex character, and his motivations are surprisingly profound. He’s an enigmatic but endearing man who is easy to root for. It certainly helps that Wells delivers an outstanding performance in the role, making you appreciate the depth he brings to the character.

That’s not to say the rest of the cast isn’t good in their one-dimensional parts. LaSardo is always fun and exudes true badassness. Tally’s deadpan is hilarious, while Dawn is believable as a versatile fighter. Hager is slimy and easy to hate, and Roberts continues his streak of being very intense in minor roles. Peterson is really great, perfectly emoting in a pivotal scene near the end. And again, how entertaining and funny Madsen is here cannot be overstated.

Arena Wars, despite its indieroots, showcases its strength in the action sequences. The sci-fi props may be low-tech, with a few glowing or lit-up elements, but they maintain a sense of realism. However, the near-future setting merely serves as a backdrop to the real star of the film: the action. Slagle and director of photography Michael Su skillfully capture the dynamic action, with plenty of kinetic movements around the fighters. This stylistic approach elevates the film above the usual direct-to-video fare, providing a satisfying distraction from the (mostly) flat characterizations.

Arena Wars, while not without its flaws, is an undeniably exhilarating experience. The pacing and performances generate a palpable sense of excitement in the action scenes. If you’re a fan of prison fight ring flicks or the creative team behind this film, then this is a must-watch that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Arena Wars (2024)

Directed and Written: Brandon Slagle

Starring: John Wells, Michael Madsen, Robert LaSardo, Mercedes Peterson, Eric Roberts, Kevin Hager, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

Arena Wars Image

"…undeniably exhilarating..."

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