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By Michael Dequina | August 27, 2002

A decently done boxing match does not a movie make, as Walter Hill’s pugilism-in-prison pic “Undisputed” proves. Indeed, what audiences buy a ticket to see–a big bout between convicted heavyweight champion Ving Rhames and prison boxing circuit king Wesley Snipes–does, pardon the pun, pack the required punch.
As with any boxing movie or fight card, the main event doesn’t come until the very end, and like too many pay-per-view packages the undercard is underwhelming. The lead-up consists of tedious and unsuspenseful “will-they-or-won’t-they-fight?” drama, a lot of profanity spouted by a jailed mobster (Peter Falk), and, above all else, pointless visual trickery: white flashes as scene transitions, on-screen blueprints, and captions that offer extraneous background information to even the most peripheral of characters. Even with all the on-screen text, there’s only one fully realized character in Hill and David Giler’s screenplay, and that is Rhames’ disgraced champ, who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of rape. The ambiguity on the issue is one of the more successful touches in the screenplay, helped in no small part to Rhames’ multidimensional portrayal of the character.
The Snipes character, on the other hand, is more reflective of the thinness of the entire film. All we ever get to know about him is that (1) he was a once-promising ring prospect; (2) he was convicted of a crime of passion; and (3) he likes to build models out of toothpicks. Much like those models, “Undisputed” falls apart with the slightest nudge–of thought, that is.

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