“Death Warrant,” “Undisputed,” and “Enter the Dragon.” If you’ve seen those films then there’s a good chance you won’t need to see the oddly titled “Ring of Death” which is a simultaneous nod and derivation of the aforementioned with none of the charm of either of them. “Ring of Death” is a movie with every such potential to be a fun guy’s action film, and fails to be nothing more than a sub-par television movie with the illusion of edge embedded into its rather predictable story. The writers never really provide us with the slightest bit of originality, opting instead to rely on our familiarity with the action genre.
There’s the illegal prison fights used for sport, the crooked warden hosting these battles, the interplay between the host of prison characters who provide their purposes and never expand beyond it, and the hackneyed plot involving Burke Wyatt who is an ex cop and figures getting in jail to bust this crime ring will ensure him a slot on the force when he does his time. Explain that logic to me. Just the same “Ring of Death” presents the heavily homoerotic setting and dialogue that is always heavy with hints of undertones involving male on male sexuality and relations. Meanwhile, all efforts to keep the prison dialogue to a PG-13 minimum fail as clunkers are delivered more often than not with Messner really failing to convince us that he’s any type of action hero. While he’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, I simply didn’t enjoy what he had to offer as a fighter, convict, and officer.
Any and all attempts to build a sub-plot and reason for Wyatt to get out of jail are also underwhelming, as Charlotte Ross is wasted as the emotional bait trying to convince his son that he’ll be fine in prison. Ross serves no purpose beyond appearing occasionally to have a heart to heart with Wyatt, and crawl back into her own self-contained story to tend to their son. The performances leave much to be desired as the director cuts frantically through fights and choreography so dizzying, it’s impossible to make out what’s happening before our eyes. There’s the jagged editing, the quick cuts back and forth between warden and competitors, and the often erratic reactions from the villains. I mean, I knew they were enjoying the vicious violence, but I couldn’t understand why, because the fights are all so ordinary and bland to watch.
The worst performance though is by Stacy who is crooked warden Carl Golan who doubles as a proper Englishman with a history of boxing. We’re told this constantly if for no other reason than to show a bit of unwarranted sympathy his way, while Keach lays it on thick to where it’s painfully over the top. The ultimate pay off really isn’t anything that warrants a cheer, as “Ring of Death” opts to be as routine and predictable as pretty much every prison movie this side of the WWE. Formula, routine, familiar, and dull, “Ring of Death” may please the action buffs who like their genre offerings to be recognizable enough to predict what’s around the corner.