In the context of David Mamet’s directorial career, Redbelt breaks no ground, signals no new direction, adds nothing to what he’s done at the typewriter and behind the camera thus far. In taking up where 2004’s largely ignored Spartan left off, Redbelt instead merely reconfirms the pros and cons of Mamet’s unique brand of tough-guy dramatics. As in Spartan the new film earnestly centers on a man discovering a corrupt world in which he remains the lone beacon of moral honor; but also as in Spartan it veers dangerously close to utter preposterousness when trying to unravel a conspiracy.
Mamet’s reliably sharp dialogue, artless linearity, and gift for getting the best out of steely-eyed performers help see Redbelt through, however, and at this point it’s simply a pleasure to witness how he’ll unfold action within a complex house of games. Here Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, a jiu-jitsu instructor who owns a studio where he teaches self-defense instead of selling out to the competitive fighting circuit. After a chain of contingencies and unwise decisions involving conniving fight promoters (Ricky Jay), opportunistic wives (Alice Braga), and phony movie stars (Tim Allen — yes, Tim Allen), Terry is forced into the ring to fight for the prize money and save his business, in the process confronting the realities of an industry driven by greed and not the codes of integrity and discipline by which he lives. Solid genre stuff all the way — including the unfortunately depthless female roles — but while Mamet at times unconventionally uses jiu-jitsu strategies in Redbelt to oppose the sports-movie formula’s contrivances against itself, he also just as often plays it safe in order to flex macho muscle.