Knuckledust (Cert 18)

VOD (Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films) Running Time: 106 minutes approx.

Disclaimer: Due to me being hard of hearing and with the screener I watched not having HOH subtitles as well as a hideous sound mix, I was unable to understand very little of the dialogue. Therefore, details of the plot will be very sketchy.

In the underground fight club Knuckledust, the glamorous but scheming owner Serena Marcos (Camille Rowe) promises elite guest Requin (Rohan Gurbaxani) a man will fall in the third round to the monstrous Rawbone (Olivier Richters), securing a large bet from him. The fated fighter in question is Hard Eight (Moe Dunford), who has been instructed to take the fall of his girlfriend will be killed.

Hard Eight instead doubles crosses Serena and shoots Rawbone leading to chaos in the club, during which Serena escapes after calling the police. A task force arrives, headed by Sergeant Redmond (Jaime Winstone), finding dead bodies everywhere with just one person left alive – Hard Eight. He is taken in for questioning by Chief Inspector Katherine Keaton (Kate Dickie) but is what Hard Eight telling her the truth?

You can tell just minutes into Knuckledust that writer-director and actor James Kermack is a fan of genre cinema, not just from how he wears his influences on his sleeve but in how blatant his homage to various films and directors are. The opening sequence alone blends Guy Ritchie with Quentin Tarantino and sets the tone for what is to come. Mileage will vary as to whether Kermack is delivering a respectful tribute or a lazy pastiche.

Something else that will also vex viewers is the promise of a non-stop, violent fight flick by the poster and trailer, when in fact it makes up a small part of the film, limited to the first two acts. Kermack, one assumes, is hoping his sub-Ritchie comedy, stylish visuals, and sinuous plotting will distract the audience from the paucity of action, so take this as a caveat emptor if you desire less waffling and more walloping.

As I mentioned before, the sound on the review screener was diabolical, with music and sound effects drowning out the dialogue and the cast mostly mumbling and whispering for “gravity”, not to mention the thick regional accents. So much of the story was lost on me, including the big plot twists in the final act that ties up everything that preceded it, leaving this write both bemused and unfulfilled from not being able to understand the pay off.

What I can say is that the central conceit of the plot appears to be who is zooming whom with regard to the goings on at the club. Hard Eight – slight spoiler – is revealed to be an ex-military man, hence his impressive fighting prowess. Lifting directly from First Blood, when the police computer nerd Hooper (Dave Bibby) hacks into the military database it triggers a call from Major Vaughn (Alex Ferns), who is coming to collect “his boy” for their sake, but heads will still roll anyway.

Meanwhile, Keaton is bending the rules to get the facts from Hard Eight, unaware she only has 60-minutes before Vaughn arrives – except Redmond, who resents Keaton and wants her job, decides to tell her ten minutes after the clock starts ticking, as it will be Keaton’s neck for the chop. So, for those keeping track, Keaton has an agenda, Hard Eight has an agenda, Redmond has an agenda – in fact, by the end of the film it seems EVERYONE has an agenda.

Confused? If you can’t hear well like I can’t then it will be doubly mystifying but the script also deserves some blame for throwing too much into the mix, be it sub plots, flashbacks and new characters. The result is a film that is tonally uneven and hard to pin down to any one category, again a casualty of Kermack’s panoply of movie tributes, any one of which might have sufficed had the focus stayed on just them.

Returning the homage aspect of the film, the fight scenes contribute to this to, from a punch up confined to a lift a’la The Raid et al, to a hardcore battle in the pit similar to Jet Li’s Unleashed, with the crowning glory being a replication of the one take hammer hallway fight from Oldboy only the hammer is supplanted with a dildo! Don’t ask. The fight are in fact quite entertaining if only they were shot with a bit more care, as in not cutting to a different angle every millisecond, otherwise they will stand out as a highlight for most.

Visually, Kermack has as good eye for colour and stylish veneers, and has taken the “go big or go home” attitude to the presentation. If this helps disguise the weaknesses of the film then job done. Not content with on screen name tags to introduce the cast, and fancy music video style set piece, there is also an animation sequence (think Kill Bill) to cover the backstory of one dubious character.

Because of the aforementioned audio issues, I really feel ill equipped to pass judgement on the performances, but the cast do seem to be on the same page as Kermack in terms of what their characters are supposed to be and what the film is about. If I’m honest, the only character I did enjoy was Jaime Winstone’s Redmond, both quick witted and no nonsense for a woman in such a testosterone-fuelled environment. Kate Dickie shows a similarly robust presence whilst Moe Dunford was better when kicking butt.

Knuckledust for me is a frustrating film because it has all the ingredients to be the sort busy, good looking, and curious but dumb action-cum-crime mystery flick to serve as suitable distraction viewing, but not being to follow the story via the dialogue, I don’t know how good or bad it might actually be. I hope the sound is better or has subtitles if you choose to watch it via your VOD service of choice.

Rating – ** ½

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