Brothers Joey (Jesse Kove) and Steve Calderon (Pete Passaro) are part of a martial arts dynasty with a school run by their father, Mike (Martin Kove). While both were raised tough in the wake of their mother’s death, one brother chose to walk a path different from the other.
That’s the setup Breaking Point helmer Joe Gawalis offers in his premise for sophmore feature, Bare Knuckle Brawler, offsetting a tale about a family like almost any other – dealing with its own share of problems but never losing the love.
That tension gets its most trying moment in the hours when Mike and Steve learn of Joey’s death after taking a dangerous undercover assignment overseen by top police brass Frank (William DiMeo) to infiltrate an illegal fighting racket; The police also suspect the same people are behind a number of dead bodies popping up around the city.
Armed with his skills, his will and the rebellious attitude his father so often can’t stand, Steve goes in, leaving an insatiable impression on Vinny (John Bianco), the man who runs the business of the ring, as well as Santo, the man who runs the entire show.
He earns his keep, and also just happens to make a potential ally in the form of Raymond who apparently has a knack for spotting weaknesses in fighters. He hints at this a little later in a brief, introductory chat with Steve who manages to earn his keep and procure a modicum of favor with Santo and Vinny.
Meanwhile, Frank is forced to deal with pesky reporters and the stalemate of an investigation compromised by the death of a key witness. The question therein lies if whether or not Steve can keep the act up long enough to climb the ladder and reach Joey’s killer before more bodies turn up, possibly his own.
Bare Knuckle Brawler is exactly the kind of film meant for the 80s and 90s crowd of direct-to-video martial arts fans. The casting of the elder Kove speaks highly to this and piques the interest just a little more with the addition of son, Jesse, making his entry. Combined with the effects and on-screen muscle of Two time Martial Arts Hall Of Famer, actor and producer Passaro, there should be plenty to look forward to in a film as beefy as this.
The addition of world’s nicest real-life nice guy/infamous screen villain Danny Trejo also brings Bare Knuckle Brawler some feasible film nostalgia and genuine talent with much of the cast turning in passable performances for the film’s sake.
Steve eventually finds love with Alicia (Deborah Twiss), but it’s a romance hardly believeable given how long she’s in the movie before sharing intimate dialogue scenes. Even worse is that hers is the longest of the film’s four dialogue actresses who are in the film no longer than a minute and change.
Apart from these and the usual requisite sex scenery, that’s about all there is to take away before delving into the fight-driven narrative, which becomes almost unbearable in terms of fight scene mechanics. The film offers as much as you can enjoy from the passable acting on behalf of the cast, and there are a few worthwhile performances to endulge.
As for the action, unfortunately, it’s a much different story with comparatively unpassable results. Hector Soria, a favorite of this website per his work in short movies, serves as the film’s listed stunt and fight coordinator, and my observation of his work in the last several years has never fallen short of thrilling, which is a shame since his talents are handed here to a director who hasn’t quite yet learned the ropes on shooting action.
Generic, handheld cinematography comprised of tight shots, erratic pacing between regular and high speed lensing, constant movement and cutaways from the fights make watching the action feel like a tiresome chore. It all takes away from the actors performing the fights as I found myself tuning in and out of the action as a result.
Apart from the Boyka-centric Undisputed films and a few select titles that have earned similar appeal in some capacity, Bare Knuckle Brawler does little to hold a candle to its predecessors. It’s strongest traits come from select scenes of drama and action, coupled with an otherwise interesting plot.
Given the action talent involved, better treatment might have made this movie more worthwhile, but by the third round, you might regret not throwing in the towel before the bell rings for round two.