How do you make a fortune from the bloodlust of millions? One sadistically savvy businessman (Samuel L. Jackson) has created an empire with his brutal, fight-to-the-death gladiator website. His newest warrior is David Lord (Kellan Lutz), a kidnapped fireman, now imprisoned and forced to fight for his life. To buy his freedom, Lord agrees to do a series of lethal bouts. But as the body count escalates, and with his most challenging battle remaining, Lord unleashes a torrent of bloody carnage and reveals a secret that threatens to tear down the entire enterprise. Also featuring Daniel Dae Kim (TV’s “Lost”) and Nina Dobrev (TV’s “Vampire Diaries”).
About as subtle and refined as a caveman fighting a Hell's Angel, this relentlessly in-your-face martial arts film delivers more than its fair share of rewind-worthy moments. Visual-effects veteran Jonah Loop's directorial debut plays like an easy-reading mash-up of Bloodsport
and The Prisoner
: after suffering a family tragedy, a firefighter (The Twilight Saga
's Kellan Lutz) finds himself held captive in a futuristic jail, where he must fight a never-ending slew of death matches for the amusement of a worldwide web audience. As he struggles to survive, the sadistic creator of the game (Samuel L. Jackson, having a ball) does what he can to worsen the odds. While that description may be more complicated than the actual plot, the brutal choreography and the cast's energy level definitely make up for deficiencies elsewhere: although Lutz mainly acts with his pecs, he's more than compensated for by Jackson gleefully chewing the scenery, brief appearances from genre stalwarts James Remar and Lost
's Daniel Dae Kim, and a terrific secondary bad guy in Johnny Messner, who all but spits venom at the camera when ticked off. Those looking for logic and continuity in their action movies need not apply, but for all of its clumsiness, Arena
displays a firm knowledge of what exactly makes an exploitation flick hum: whenever it spies a chance for something gratuitous, it doubles down. --Andrew Wright