After tortuous screeds on Hollywood doublespeak, the present state of self-hating Judaism and his own abdication of “brain-dead” liberalism, David Mamet officially exceeds his quota of permissible bullshit for this decade with this preposterous new shell game, in which an L.A. jujitsu instructor (Ejiofor) rescues a movie star (Allen) from a bar brawl and gets roped into a half-pint House of Games as a reward. In the writer-director’s scheme, the protagonist’s ingenuousness mirrors the audience’s: Learn that sporting events can be fixed, that movie stars can be venal, that standing on principle is a sucker’s game and that sometimes the best punches are thrown outside the ring. For all the film’s hairpin turns—and recycling, particularly of Mamet’s obsession with the mendacity of film producers—it counts for something that the pace and testosterone keep pumping.
Connoisseurs of spot-the-Mametism will be in heaven. “Booze, women. What in this life doesn’t get you into trouble?” quips Allen, cast as a megastar because his director’s perversity with actors matches that of his camera placement. Never one to show when he can tell, Mamet—who trained in Brazilian jujitsu and apparently sees Redbelt as a treatise on modern honor—smacks his lips over a series of increasingly convenient dei ex machina. Typically, the women morph from loving companions to traitorous harpies offscreen—a failure of foreshadowing masquerading as a sleight of hand. Concluding with an earnest mentor-pupil embrace that surely had the crew cackling on set, Redbelt is an essential bout in its maker’s ongoing self-destruction.
Cast and crew