Review of The Philly Kid

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A former NCAA champion wrestler is paroled after 10 years in prison. In order to save a friend's life, he has to make the tough decision to lose during a series of cage fights.
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Movie Review: "The Philly Kid"

--Rating: R
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: May 11, 2012
Directed by: Jason Connery
Genre: Action and Drama

"The Philly Kid" tells the story of youth gone wrong. Starring Wes Chatham, Devon Sawa and Sarah Butler, the movie follows a wrestler who turns to mixed martial arts in response to adversity. Although the movie is slightly formulaic, it is certain to entertain audiences who are looking for an action-packed, suspenseful moviegoing experience.

Wes Chatham plays Dillon McCabe, a wrestler who wins the NCAA championship. On the night of his glorious win, Dillon becomes an unwitting and unwilling participant in a robbery. The heist ends in the death of a cop, and Dillon is sent to jail. After ten years behind bars, he is released on parole in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Before he has the chance to start his life over again, his unlucky friend Jake (played by Devon Sawa) gets into serious trouble with local crooks.

Ever loyal, Dillon decides to help his friend out of his tough situation. Instead of returning to wrestling, he enters the rough-and-tumble world of mixed martial arts. The young fighter rises to success quickly, but finds that the result is far from what he expected. Instead of achieving his former glory, Dillon realizes that he is trapped in a system that he can't surpass. In the end, he must make the ultimate choice, which will test his honor and determine the course of his life.

"The Philly Kid" is a guys' movie at heart, standing out more for the fight scenes than for the character's emotional dilemmas. In this way, the movie misses an opportunity to explore an interesting situation-the reality facing parolees as they integrate back into the real world, from work to relationships. Instead, it spends more time on violent scenes, where sweat and blood fly as large men pummel each other in a ring. For viewers looking for an exciting experience rather than a movie that makes them think, "The Philly Kid" will fit the bill perfectly.

Wes Chatham shines as Dillon, giving the character a depth that is not in the script. Chatham has a military background, and in his capable hands, the physical aspects of the movie are entirely believable. Although he is not a refined actor, his youthful bearing and rough-around-the-edges charm lend themselves perfectly to Dillon's struggles.

Although "The Philly Kid" purports to be a drama at heart, it comes off largely as a vehicle to show off the actors' fighting skills.

The supporting cast members give memorable performances as the various inhabitants of the unsavory fighting underworld. Lucky Johnson gives a believable performance as Ace, the local crime leader who gets Jake into debt and pulls Dillon into the situation. Sarah Butler is a welcome breath of fresh air as Dillon's love interest, providing a break from the dark, ultra-masculine plot. Although the role doesn't give her the chance to explore her considerable acting talents, Butler displays admirable restraint and a surprising emotional depth that grounds the film. A host of other characters, from the corrupt cop (played by Chris Browning) to the well-meaning parole officer (played by Adam Mervis), represent both sides of the good-evil spectrum. Neal McDonough gives a standout showing as Dillon's trainer, who hides in the shadowy world of mixed martial arts fighting to escape his past. Together, the cast members form a formidable ensemble that lends a human touch to an inhuman world.

The plot is a secondary concern in "The Philly Kid," and at times the movie comes off like a second-rate "Rocky" impression. The plot follows a careful formula, creating the perfect movie for an evening with friends. It does not challenge viewers or ask them to think beyond what they see; there is no deeper meaning. But viewers will not feel the holes in writer Adam Mervis' script-they will be too busy trying to follow the jarring and violent fight scenes.

Director Jason Connery makes the most of his actors' physicality, choosing close-up shots that communicate their power and anger. With careful shots, he succeeds in conveying the frantic, tough nature of mixed martial arts fighters and the cold, violent attitudes of spectators. Although his camerawork and editing are not elegant or sophisticated, Connery manages to create a realistic atmosphere that pervades the film.

Overall, "The Philly Kid" is predictable but enjoyable. Viewers who are looking for dramatic fight scenes will not be disappointed. The plot, though flawed, blends the fights together seamlessly, creating a reasonable storyline and entertaining transition. The movie is ideal for a night out with the guys.

Rating: 3 out of 5