Most sports dramas follow the same clichéd patterns, with rousing action sequences interspersed with bits of drama, featuring a man with the heart of a champion for us to root for. "Embattled" can't even balance the genre clichés properly. The problems start with the script, but they expand to cover the choppy, ineffective MMA fight sequences and the either overcooked or under-served characters at its center.
"Embattled" is written by David McKenna, who once upon a time was responsible for the screenplay of a jarring and powerful drama called "American History X." Nearly 22 years later, his script for "Embattled" seems amateurish.
Cash (Stephen Dorff) is a successful MMA (mixed-martial-arts) fighter who has made millions at his brutal profession, literally fighting, clawing and kicking his way from humble beginnings to the top of the mountain. Outside of the ring, he's a lot less stellar...he's crude, homophobic and perhaps racist. He also battles an alcohol addiction. His family is a complicated mess, but he shares a closeness with his oldest son, Jett (Darren Mann), who looks up to his father and wants to follow in his footsteps as an MMA fighter, but who is conscious and aware of what has made his father a failure at life. He doesn't want to become his father, but then again, he does.
Susan (Elizabeth Reaser) is his ex-wife, mother of Jett, who is on the peripherals cheering for Jett, and worrying about him all the same. She too, fears the potential of what is within her son's blood.
But right from the jump, the dialogue is hokey and the characters are thinly-drawn. Even when the camera enters the ring for some intense MMA action, the staging is messy and dull. The son's rise up against his father climaxes in an implausible battle royale, and its disappointing ending will have you throwing in the towel, if you can make it that far.
If "Embattled" were an MMA fighter, it would be flailing around, never connecting with any of its punches or kicks. The real loser here is the viewer, who ultimately will feel battered and bruised for having endured such a visceral beating.
Genre: Sport, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 57 minutes.
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Darren Mann, Donald Faison, Elizabeth Reaser, Said Taghmaoui.
Directed by Nick Sarkisov ("Krasny").
"Embattled" will be released by IFC Films on Friday, November 20th, 2020.
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