Arena Wars Poster

Arena Wars (2024) Review

It’s the year 2045 in The Big Fucking City, that’s what the opening text says, and it’s time for everyone’s favourite show, Arena Wars, with your hosts Samson (Michael Madsen, Spirit Riser, Demon Pit) and Moses (Robert Donavan, C.O.R.N., It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder).

Well, Arena Wars used to be everybody’s favourite, a bloody spectacle that pits a team of death row inmates against a team of murderous psychopaths for a chance to earn their freedom. The problem is, it always ends the same way, with the well armed and equipped psychos slaughtering the convicts. People are getting bored and the ratings are suffering, much to the dismay of Belladonna (Kevin Hager, Space Captain and Callista, Bridge of the Doomed), the network’s CEO.

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Now, the simple answer would be to give the inmates some weapons and make it an actual fight, but that’s apparently too simple. Instead, they’re going to get Luke Bender (John Wells, Tales from Parts Unknown, Bag of Lies) to participate. Who’s he? A former marine, 10 years into a 200 year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Starting to get Running Man vibes? Me too.

But before we get any deeper into his story, director Brandon Slagle (Attack of the Unknown, The Flood), who wrote the script from a story by the film’s producers Michael and Sonny Mahal, gives us a look at just what he’ll be facing. We get to watch as a team of convicts, led by Perez (Robert LaSardo, Camp Pleasant Lake, Death Race) gets their chance at freedom. I’m not giving anything away when I say they don’t succeed.

The Running Man is indeed the film that most people will think of while watching Arena Wars, but there are elements of everything from Rollerball and Fulci’s The New Gladiators to Slashers and Spare Parts. And like some of those films, there’s some commentary on TV audiences, corporate greed, government corruption and the like. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t and some, like Bender’s backstory, is pretty close to unbelievable. In fact, it feels like it’s just there to set up a plot point going into the final act.

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Thankfully though, the serious stuff is kept to a minimum and concentrates on doing what it does best, staging fight after fight, giving us the same thing the Arena Wars studio audience wants, plenty of mayhem. Fists, feet, knives, a pickaxe and, of course, a chainsaw, all come into play during the course of the film. While there is a lot of blood, there aren’t a lot of gore effects, the focus is more on the action. But what we do get is well staged and mostly practical.

There’s also a cast full of familiar faces doing a good job helping to get the film through it’s rougher moments. Apart from those already mentioned, Eric Roberts (Darkness of Man, Runaway Train) appears in a couple of video calls, Sheri Davis (Devilreaux, Lake of Shadows) is the show’s hostess Holly Daze, Mercedes Peterson (Anna 2, Fruit of the Poisonous Tree), who also designed the costumes, is Belladonna’s assistant Domino and, while he may not be that familiar, Johnny Huang (Axe2Grind, Bloodthirst) is a hoot as the comic relief Khan.

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Whatever you might say about the plots of some of them, films from the Mahals are solid from a technical perspective, and Arena Wars is no exception. Michael Su (Interstellar Civil War: Shadows of the Empire, Dante’s Hotel) once again does a good job of shooting the film’s action. And Scott Glasgow (Slay Belles, Shadow Master) delivers a score that adds to the mood nicely.

Overall, Arena Wars is a fun bit of sci-fi action with a dystopian twist. There should be enough brawling and violence to keep viewers watching and guessing who, if anyone, will manage to win their get out of jail free card.

Gravitas Ventures will release Arena Wars on June 25th. You can check its Facebook page for more information.

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