A testosterone substitute in drama form, “Embattled” practically peacocks onto the screen. The camera starts on its side and rotates upright (big, unconventional shot, suckers!). It then tracks Cash Boykins (Stephen Dorff), a mixed martial arts fighter, as he saunters cage-ward for his latest match. In his first lines, Cash banters about how well-endowed he is. Soon he’s pummeling the skull of a Russian opponent. “Embattled” goes so hard, it puts the ending of “Rocky IV” up front.
Cash is not what you would call an easy man. He battered his children and his now-ex-wife (Elizabeth Reaser), who works as a waitress with no support from Cash’s millions. Cash disdains one of their sons (Colin McKenna), who has Williams syndrome, and is involved in the life of the other, Jett (Darren Mann), only insofar as he can train him to fight and dispense advice on how to drink and drive without getting caught. (Lest we think Cash is a total monster, he maintains a wavering interest in negotiating benefits for his fellow fighters.)
“Embattled” emerges as Jett’s story: the struggle of a caring brother, considerate son and failing calculus student who sees his clearest path forward as following in his brutal father’s footsteps. When it’s showing its sensitive side, the film, scripted by David McKenna (“American History X”) and directed by Nick Sarkisov, unexpectedly shines. Alas, it’s too much to assume that Jett and Cash could settle their grievances Jett’s way, or that an M.M.A. movie might get financed without devoting 20 minutes to a climactic beat down.
Rated R. Merciless cage matches. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.
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