DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Undefeated

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Mar 23, 2004.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    Studio: HBO
    Year: 2003
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 90 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD 5.1
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: English & Spanish
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $26.98
    Package: Keep Case

    The Feature:
    In his directorial debut, John Leguizamo stars as a welterweight boxer named Lex Vargas who goes from the proverbial rags to world champion riches throughout the course of the film. Along the way, he discovers the fights in the ring are miniscule compared to the fights in real life. Although he’s always aware of his past and from where he’s come, he invariably loses touch, often forgetting those who were close to him in the beginning before he reached stardom. Lex has recently won the welterweight championship and is given the opportunity to rise and escape the hardened neighborhood that so many others never seem to be able to do.

    Though he’s clearly happy for his new found success and financial stability, there’s obviously a feeling of wishing things were “the way they used to be”. As he has moved up in the circuit and in an attempt to accelerate his career, he has been forced to find a new promoter and manager leaving his friends behind who served him during less prosperous days. He’s never forgotten his friends and during a return to the old neighborhood, he comes across a couple of them and is saddened and disturbed to hear they have not been able to leave the socially destitute ghetto that he was all too familiar with. The realization is a rather stark one and now he’s faced with a decision of going on or returning to the life of unparalleled daily struggles.

    Along the way he meets up with a young and sexy hanger-on, Lizette Sanchez (played by Vanessa Ferlito) who seems to be able to bring calm to the young star but both are aware as to their real purpose within the relationship. Unfortunately, Lex finds out for himself, that his manager and promoter have ulterior plans when they plot for him to throw his upcoming defending title fight in order to secure massive dividends for the rematches.

    Undefeated is a well intended but bumpy and rather clichéd rags to riches story about an underprivileged Latino boxer from Jackson Heights, New York. The film is a culmination of five years of work and it’s obvious that Leguizamo is passionate about the sport and the film. It is however, a rather unfortunate directorial debut for Leguizamo, since this film brings nothing new to the table and seems rather flat as he was unable to completely develop any of the characters who were supposed to mean so much to him – and us. As a fight film, it does very little to take us behind the unsavory world of the sport, as a story of humanity, it simply doesn’t connect in allowing us to even want to know those who were supposedly so important. Another film that quickly comes to mind which deals with similar issues and obstacles is the 1947 John Garfield classic, Body And Soul. If you’re a fan of the sport or its sub-culture, Body And Soul shouldn’t be missed - in fact, even if you care less about boxing, it shouldn’t be missed.

    HBO has released Undefeated in a standard Keep Case which comes complete with a Chapter List insert.

    We have come to expect some pretty nice things from HBO and this is no exception. They have delivered yet again with a presentation that is more than pleasing.

    First, black levels were exceptional and whites were contrasted nicely and looked crisp. Colors were mostly vibrant and nicely saturated. As for image detail, many of the close-up shots looks extremely detailed, however, it seemed as though many of the shots of people or things in the foreground were slightly soft or out of focus and the image never really had a great sense of dimensionality to it.

    There was a slight hint of grain and as we would expect, the print looked clean and free of any dirt, debris or scratches. The transfer was also free of any light stability or shimmer problems.

    I did notice some slight artifacting during a few of the outdoor sky scenes and edge enhancement was present occasionally, particularly during a meeting between Lex and Mack in the restaurant overlooking the skyline.

    Not a transfer you’ll use for demo purposes but it does a nice job.!

    The track is encoded DD 5.1 and does a pretty good job, though not what I would refer to as aggressive. The dialogue comes across very clear and is usually always intelligible. I say “usually” as I found it to be mixed a tad on the low side, particularly early in the film but it seemed to level out as the film progressed.

    As we would expect, the track sounded clean with no hiss or other bothersome extraneous noises. This track was somewhat robust although during a few gunshots early in the film, they were rather anemic and lackluster. During many of the actual fight scenes, some of the punches and various fighting effects had a great visceral concussiveness to them and packed quite a walloping thud allowing for a healthy workout of the sub.

    As for the surrounds, they were deployed rather aggressively and tactfully particularly during the fight scenes as well as the many press conference scenes allowing the “hall room effect” which sounded very realistic.

    Again, a respectable audio track that does an admirable job.

    Special Features:
    This disc has a couple of decent special features, starting with:
    [*] Audio Commentary which features John Leguizamo who actually does a pretty respectable job here and admittedly, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. It’s obvious that he is passionate about the sport and where he grew up and there is a central focus about much of the specific locations during his discussion as to its relevance in the film. I also give him credit for admitting many of his mistakes where certain scenes had to be re-shot due to certain characters being underdeveloped etc. Rarely do we hear such candor from some of these other egocentrics – very honest and refreshing. He might not be the most eloquent in terms of delivery, but I give him a decent grade. Good job.
    [*] Interview With John Leguizamo is a brief interview with the star/director which is conducted in Spanish with English subtitles. The actor discusses his passion for the sport and how he was able to work that into the film. Duration: 3:31 minutes.
    [*] Up next is a Behind The Scenes Featurette which includes Leguizamo who discusses his style in allowing the actors to be themselves and giving them the control. Also discussed is the location shoot of Jackson Heights in New York City. Duration: 3:32 minutes.
    [*] And finally, an HBO Films Promo which is a well done trailer highlighting many of the great films that HBO has recently released. Duration: 1:53 minutes.

    Final Thoughts:
    I can't help but think that this film truly was Leguizamo's labor of love. Even during the commentary, he expresses excitement about the project and his commendable enthusiasm is almost contagious. The problem is, the film deals with two distinct issues; boxing (and the sordid underbelly of those who run the sport) and the subculture surrounding the sport (dealing with him and his friends and his former neighborhood). Unfortunately neither of these issues are very carefully thought out, resulting in the film falling flat on its face. Be forewarned the ending is infuriatingly terrible, which certainly doesn’t help its cause...

    Although the presentation is quite nice, I can't recommend a purchase since the movie doesn't seem to accomplish any of the goals it sets out to do. While the lack of originality isn’t a huge issue for me, there are just too many other movies out there that are far better at conveying the same message in a more capable manner than this one. It's not a terrible movie by any means, but you'd surely want to consider a rental first.

    Release Date: March 23rd, 2004
  2. john mcfadden

    john mcfadden Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 11, 2003
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    I almost rented this today ...but i was'nt sure if it was any good ...I'm surprised that HBO never released any of Leguizamo's one man shows to dvd like "Mambo mouth" and "Sexaholic" i'd certainly pick those up.

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