There have been so many underground/ illegal fight flicks created since a director first recorded an actor throwing a punch that it can be tricky to stand out. Some titles go the brutal route, making the audience feel every impact and bone crunch. A few aim high with excellent characterizations. Others still are cerebral mind games. Blood Circus, one of the latest offerings in this shockingly crowded subgenre, chose to do precisely none of those things.
Director Jacob Cooney has created a movie that shuffles from one blandly lit sequence to unengaging fight, and back again, with zero visual style. An early bar fight lacks energy with the camera positioned so far away that each choreographed move is obviously staged. The stiff, out of nowhere brawl also serves as our introduction to the lead character of Sean (Jamie Nocher), whose likable traits equate to zero as he seems to have no interest in anything ever. The direction also fails on the dramatic front, leaving the viewer with nothing and no one relatable onscreen. Fights can be expensive to film in a way that genuinely brings their excitement forth, but strong characters don’t cost more than the time they took to write. Studio tentpole film or low budget indie, one-dimensional characters are inexcusable.
Screenwriter Eric Weinstock’s characterizations are so thin and uninspired all the audience discovers about the marriage of MMA fighter Sean, and Sherry (Christy Carlson Romano) is that it failed; no joke, the reason it was dissolved is never brought up or dealt with. There is a lot of talk about how MMA fighting is the only thing Sean was fervent about and now that he is retired he is directionless. It is just talk, though, as the flames of passion never materialize within the character once he enters the titular death fights. This makes it impossible for the audience to empathize with or care about him. Deke (Robert LaSardo) is a recruiter for the illegal fights and charged with ensuring Sean shows up to the bloodbaths. He does this by kidnapping Sherry and Sean’s child, Mikey (Brandon White). But he also expresses true disgust with his employer’s dubious methods. Why not go to the cops he knows are investigating the dead bodies?
“Studio tentpole film or low budget indie, one-dimensional characters are inexcusable.”
The editing offers little assistance, often feeling as if it was simply cut to conclude the scene at hand, never finding a rhythm. It is clunky and awkward, creating incoherent sequences. Twenty minutes in, six teenagers find the body of one of the fighters, but the scene starts abruptly and how the character of Stevie (Blaise Serra) initially uncovers the body is hard to follow. The first real fight is in a concrete room and instead of focusing on the punches or kicks, to make things kinetic, there is a straight medium shot that cuts to a slightly tilted medium shot. All the fights are this bland and boring.
There is a hefty cast of characters, most of whom can be cut without changing a thing. Of those six teens just mentioned, only two of them have been introduced to us, and of those two only one, Simon (Jeremy Fernandez), has any scenes following the discovery moment just mentioned. Why did it have to be six non-descript teens who barely contribute anything? Having it be only the original two would have fleshed them out more and given them a stronger purpose.
Simon’s subplot involves Detective Dawson (Tom Sizemore) recruiting him to hack the site that streams the illegal sites to track the address. Not a bad idea all told, but don’t police departments have scores of workers devoted to such tasks? Matters are not improved by the fact that all the kid does is track it down, no big heroics here, nor does he factor into the main plot involving Simon. Plus the tech angle used here is so insulting to its audience it seems like this portion was lifted from a leftover script to a sequel to The Net.
“…shuffles from one blandly lit sequence to unengaging fight…”
Nocher is such a blank slate it is mystifying how he got past a table read, let alone all of the production. He and plot device Romano share such little chemistry it is impossible to fathom these two ever deciding to marry, much less rekindle things. This encapsulates the bland, quick, product making thought process that drove almost every aspect of the movie. Romano fares a tad better as a worried mom, but she often feels like she is, in fact, acting, never truly embodying the character. Robert LaSardo tries to imbue his character with empathy, but the feeble script gives him nothing to work with, and so his motivations seem random and haphazard. Changing sides on a whim solely to move the plot along. The rest of the cast, for the most part, leaves such little impact on the story that there is nothing to critique or compliment about them.
There is one character that manages to rise above the mundane presentation, and that is thanks entirely to the actor portraying him. An audience member could be forgiven for forgetting just how good Tom Sizemore can truly be, with his constant output of B-movies and the occasional apparent paycheck role. Here, though, as Detective Jake Dawson, he gives a subdued and realistic portrayal of a harried cop trying to put things together. Bodies from the illegal fights keep cropping up in odd places around town, and he cannot figure where they are coming from or their connection. His plight and frustration are genuinely felt, and Sizemore seems like the one actor trying to do more than what is presented on the page.
Even for the most ardent fans of the underground fighting genre, Blood Circus will try their patience. The characters aren’t fleshed out, combined with the poorly executed fight sequences and any appeal this movie might have had is dashed. Poor Sizemore, legitimately tries, but he cannot save this movie from itself.
Blood Circus (2017) Directed by Jacob Cooney. Written by Eric Weinstock. Starring Jamie Nocher, Tom Sizemore, Robert LaSardo, Brandon White, Kevin Nash, Christy Carlson Romano, Jeremy Fernandez.