Walter Hill’s mash-up of prison & boxing tropes is good dumb fun even as it turns punchy halfway in. With a flashy, over-medicated editing style, you can just keep up with the plot, which hardly matters since the film is out to tickle, not to provoke. Wesley Snipes, laconic boxing champ of the underground Maximum Security Prison Circuit (wha?) faces his biggest challenge when Heavyweight Champ of the Outside World Ving Rhames is sentenced to six years on a rape charge. (Maximum Security on a rape charge; who’s this guy’s lawyer?) If only some jailbird was around to work out the logistics, grease the right palms, make the connections to let these two champs meet in the prison ring for a secret fight. Enter the film’s true wild card, Peter Falk, hilariously potty-mouthed as an ancient Mob vet, a not quite spent force from the Meyer Lansky era. Pulling strings & twisting arms from his cozy prison quarters, with the help of a young acolyte, he knows how to turn a fight no one can know about into millions for all concerned. (It’s this sidebar action that keeps the second half of the film in gear.) Hill is oddly cavalier about selling the fight stuff. Both in and out of the ring, the blows never seem to register. Maybe by choice since realism would collapse the concept. But taken on its own limited terms, it’s a pretty entertaining bout.
DOUBLE-BILL: Hill’s had a very hit-and-miss career considering his smash directing debut with the underappreciated street boxing fight pic HARD TIMES/’75, with Charles Bronson & James Coburn in peak form.