Before the popularity of MMA, Mickey Kelley (Sean Patrick Flanery) is an early master of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu learned under the legendary Renzo Gracie. He only fights to defend himself. He’s in Dubai for a demonstration when he rescues paralegal Layla (Katrina Bowden) from a creepy rich Russian. They get married and have a baby. Despite her reservations, he goes back to Dubai to fight in a private tournament for the money. It goes badly.
The story is much better than expected. It’s a very good underdog tale. Flanery is playing it very reserved and maybe he’s playing it too reserved. It’s not the most magnetic performance but he does well in the fight scenes. It’s missing an early scene when he follows Krav Maga into the bathroom. It doesn’t need to show the fight but it does need to show that he didn’t jump the guy. It has to be a honorable fight. Katrina Bowden is not known for great acting but she is very good in this. There are great ideas like Taco’s porch. On the other hand, Karate guy gets a little too much. He would be better if his threats are less cartoonish. He could threaten to fire him and his threats are better with quiet intensity.
The final fight also has a few issues. The movie keeps making the point that MMA is not as barbaric as the layman expects but the final fight ramps up the brutality a lot. In fact, Mickey does something very dirty which diminishes his honor. The second problem is Dennis Quaid’s personal revelation. It’s too convenient, coincidental, and comes out of left field. The third is that Mickey would never be able to collect on that bet. The Russian would never pay. The film needs to make the Shiekh the guarantor behind the bet. Quite frankly, I was going to give this a 7 but the last act has too many of these little issues.