Remember the B-Movie kick-fests of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s? You know… the ones where plot and acting come in a distant second to the well staged fight scenes? The Circuit tries to harken back to the genre of that time, but ultimately falls flat on its face like a punch drunk boxer.
Dirk Longstreet (Olivier Gruner) is the former champion of an illegal underground fighting circuit. He has tried to put those days behind him by becoming an athletics instructor at a college… His brother, Jeremy, (Ilya Morelle) eventually becomes wrapped up in the circuit after he loses twenty grand to Vixton Hack (Bryan Genesse) who grooms Jeremy to become the next opponent, and eventual victim of the present circuit champion, Kwan (The Tiger Twins – James & Simon Kim). Dirk is helped by Lenny (Billy Drago), a former circuit fighter trying to redeem himself, and Nicole (Gail Harris), a reporter who follows Dirk on a mission to exploit his days in the circuit for an article. Now Dirk must infiltrate the circuit to rescue his brother, and confront the past he has tried to bury.
If this sounds like a plot lifted from an early Van Damme movie to you, then you win a prize. The major problem with The Circuit, is that it takes itself a little too seriously. Sure there are plenty of laughs to be had, but most of them are unintentional. Bad writing, acting, dubbing, you name it, this movie is guilty of it. The acting and production value left me expecting so see a triple-x sex scene take place at anytime. And speaking of guilty pleasures, this movie mostly lacks language, graphic violence, or sexuality, all staples of the genre. When fighting, it is not clear whether losing fighters are killed or just knocked out. And other than a few specks of blood showing up on fighters’ faces every now and then, the fights are bloodless. If you are going to make a direct-to-video underground fighting film, at least do it to the max.
However, Olivier Gruner is a likeable presence and Gail Harris takes off her top, but there is little else about this movie worth recommending. Even the ever-scowling Billy Drago has lost his edge; he stumbles through the movie using a cane, far from the bad-ass role he had in The Untouchables.
If you are a fan of martial arts movies, then it might be worth a look for the realistic and scrappy fight scenes, which are a welcome change in the era of wire-fu, but there are plenty of other movies in the genre that have tackled the subject matter far better.
The movie was shot in the standard 4:3 ratio, meaning that owners of widescreen televisions will not be happy. Plus, even though this movie was filmed in 2002, it looks like it was made in 1992. The image is washed out and grainy, with only hints of clarity. Blacks lack depth, and the colors are faded. The DVD looks like you are watching the movie on cable TV.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty good for a low budget film, but won’t really give your system the full workout you might expect. The surrounds only enhance the sound emitted from the front speakers and never get to stretch their legs on their own. The soundtrack also appears to be filtered too much, giving it a slightly muted feel.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track actually has a little more bite. The sound is less separated, giving the track a more complete feel. Lows register clearly and effectively, and the front speakers generate crisp output. The surrounds get as much of a workout here as they do on the DD 5.1 track.
Surprisingly, for such a bad low budget movie, this disc is loaded with extras.
- Feature Commentary – The commentary with director Jalal Merhi, editor Kevin Schjerning, and the film’s composer Varouje is very informative. Merhi openly discusses what he wanted to do with the movie, but couldn’t because of budget limitations. They also talk about the many fighting styles that went into the film’s many fight scenes.
- Deleted Scenes with optional Commentary – Here we have about 5 minutes of deleted footage, which arguably should have stayed in the film, but were taken out because of running time. They include a scene that would have added a cool fight sequence and some intentional humor into the movie, as well as another scene where B-Movie Queen Gail Harris bears her assets in plain sight, rather than keeping them kind-of hidden, which is done in the actual film.
- Cast and Crew Interview – More surprisingly informative and well done extras. Here we learn that Olivier Gruner owns a helicopter and a Ferrari! These 10 minute a piece interviews feature the film’s star and director talking about preparing for the film, as well as shooting it.
- Trailer – The film’s trailer is included with a cheesy voice over.
This ain’t Shakespeare we’re talking about here. Heck, it isn’t even Kickboxer. What it is, is a low budget direct to video movie with bad dialogue and unintentional laughs. But hey, what is one man’s garbage is another man’s art. If you happen to be a fan of The Circuit, there are a lot of informative extras to whet your appetite. However, be warned – buy at your own risk.
Special Features List
- Audio commentary
- Deleted scenes with commentary
- Cast and crew interviews