Sometimes kids make a swordfighting video and post it on YouTube. Maybe they do it with lightsabers. At best, it will have some good production values and decent fight choreography. And it’ll usually be over in about ten minutes. Good work, kids! You’ve obviously watched The Matrix several times! The Raid: Redemption, an Indonesian production working its way into US arthouse theaters, is cut from the same cloth. The difference is that it’s stretched out over ninety minutes. An exhausting, pointless, mostly samey ninety minutes.
The production values are pretty good considering it takes place almost entirely in a run-down tenement building. Oh, another hallway. Now some guy’s room. Then a hallway. Then another guy’s room. Then another hallway. Nakatomi Plaza this ain’t. The fight choreography and physical prowess on display are undeniably impressive. In fact, the first shot of our hero punching a punching bag is electric. The movie also deserves props for its gratuitous knife porn, which unflinchingly considers what happens when you introduce sharp things into fist fights. You might recall Jason Statham’s knife fight on a bus in one of the Transporter movies, which was toned down in the editing. It’s got nothing on The Raid. This movie even saves refrigerators from the punchline they’ve become since the last Indiana Jones movie!
But one of the first rules for any fight that’s going to last longer than ten minutes is that the audience has to care about who’s fighting. No such thing happens here. You could be charitable and say The Raid resembles early John Carpenter. But Carpenter put grit and even characters into his early movies. There was a rough-hewn affection for violence in movies like Assault on Precinct 13. Consider the labor of love that is the extended fight scene in They Live. But without characters or affection, with only stunt men and slick choreography, The Raid runs out of creative steam and turns into drawn-out repetitive scenes of mostly random men yelling and punching and kicking. All the early clever stuff with guns, knives, and refrigerators is forgotten in favor of a ridiculously long boss battle against a boss character with about 10,000 hit points. If I want that, I’ll go play something by Capcom.