Thursday, 1 December 2011

Bas Rutten

As observed in January’s post about Mirko Filipovic, tough guys from the world of Mixed Martial Arts are now almost as common as wrestlers and kickboxers in the world of B-movies.

The likes of Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture may get top billing in some instances, but they’re rarely cast as heroes. Surprisingly few have been cast as action heroes, with Couture arguably having the most success, as a member of Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables ensemble.

Dutch mixed martial arts icon Sebastiaan "Bas" Rutten got a shot back in 2004, starring as the oddly named Dakota Varley in The Eliminator. The film cast the UFC Heavyweight Champion as a powerboat racer who finds himself drugged and hunted on a small island.

Before this, Rutten’s imposing figure had made a variety of film and TV appearances, including bad guy roles in Sammo Hung’s “Martial Law” (the Nitro Man episode in 1999) and the awesome Shadow Fury (2001). While his profile as a competitor and commentator in the world of MMA is much more significant, his filmography is certainly diverse. These days he’s as likely to turn up in a Kevin James movie as anything action packed.

Director Ken Barbet took his time introducing Rutten to audiences in The Eliminator (originally called Varley’s Game), opening the film with a powerboat race that’s more tedious than exciting. When Rutten does get out of the board, it’s no time at all before he’s kicking one of his competitors so hard he’s launched several feet.

With its island (actually Florida) death game premise and bald hero, The Eliminator is an awful lot like the WWE flop The Condemned, made 3 years later in 2007, but by no means has an original premise.

Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game from 1924 established a theme that’s become an increasingly popular subgenre. Since the first film adaptation in 1932, myriad, increasingly action-packed variations have used the “hunt the human” theme, including Death Ring (1992), Hard Target (1993) and Surviving the Game (1994).

But whereas the latter examples had excellent casts and glossy production values, The Eliminator is cheaper and less satisfactory fare. It doesn’t even have the amusing exploitation movie appeal of Death Ring, with it’s cast consisting of siblings and off-spring of icons such as Swayze, Norris and McQueen. It’s left to Rutten to draw in his fans and top-billed Michael Rooker to lend it credibility with a broader audience.

Rooker appears intermittently but Rutten’s not left to carry the film alone. For much of the time he’s teamed up with Paul Logan (a regular supporting player in the genre and star of Ballistica (2009) and MegaPiranha (2010)).

Vehicles for UFC stars are rarely watchable, just look at Ultimate Force (2005) and Cyborg Soldier (2008) starring Rich Franklin, but The Eliminator is at worst average. Rutten has considerable charisma and his choreographed fights are reasonably entertaining, especially those at the climax, during which he also brings down a helicopter.

Rutten’s had a steady stream of action roles, in the likes of The Vault (2005), Backlash (2006) and Saints and Sinners (2010), but The Eliminator remains his sole turn as an action hero. But at only 46 I wouldn’t rule out a second opportunity coming his way.

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