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Sticking with religious fervour to sports-drama conventions and cliches, this sweat-soaked, palette-desaturated, montage-riddled genre exercise stars Eryk Lubos as Kosa, a once feted, now washed-up mixed martial arts (MMA) champion lured back into the caged ring for one last bout.
If it weren’t for the fact that everyone is speaking Polish and that the action is set in an economically depressed province near the Lithuanian border, this would be virtually indistinguishable from any other low-budget, straight-to-DVD American story about, as the title so ploddingly spells out, an underdog. The film even assigns the hero a cute dog, just to nailgun the point. The floppy-eared mutt not only instigates the meet-cute with Aleksandra Popławska’s veterinarian love interest, but its unfortunate fate motivates the hero to get the better of the Russian bad guys.
MMA is not the same thing as boxing, but Underdog spars with classic boxing-movie preoccupations, such as emasculation, the testing of honour and loyalty, and homosocial desire. Because of course Kosa’s most passionate relationships are not with women – like his new animal-doctor squeeze or even her comely teenage daughter – but with other blokes. There’s a stern gym-owning father whose love is always withheld, a paraplegic kid brother who needs bucking up, and even a worthy opponent in the ring – all the worthier because he truly understands the hero’s worth as a fighter.
Rounding out the archetypes of masculinity is Janusz Chabior’s sidekick trainer who has Tourette’s syndrome and spouts obscenities nonstop, a condition played strictly for laughs in a way that an American film wouldn’t dare to do these days.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Underdog review – sweat-soaked MMA movie succumbs to cliches | Sport films