One man seeks not only to get his friend out of danger, but seeks personal redemption in this mixed martial arts drama.
Dillon McGuire (Wes Chatham) was a NCAA wrestling champion when a twist of fate awaits him on a night in New Orleans. When Dillon and his best friend Jake (Devon Sawa) go to a liquor store, their friend Chase (Kristopher Van Varenburg) is assaulted by a local gang. Dillon accidentally kills the gang leader with a wrestling takedown and when the police arrive, Chase is shot down when he has the gang leader’s gun in hand. Dillon and Jake are caught and end up in prison for murder.
Ten years later, Dillon is paroled. When Jake, who was released earlier, arrives to see his friend, he takes Dillon to a club. There, Dillon is introduced to the world of cage fighting. When Jake, a compulsive gambler, finds himself twenty-thousand dollars in debt by gambler Ace (Lucky Johnson), Dillon makes Ace an offer he can’t refuse. Dillon agrees to fight three times and if he wins all three fights, the debts will be considered paid.
After winning his first match, Dillon begins training under former MMA champion L.A. Jim (Neal McDonough). As Dillon makes his name known, he draws the ire of corrupt officer Marks (Chris Browning), who works for greedy mixed martial arts coach Arthur Letts (Michael Jai White). When L.A. Jim is to make sure that Dillon loses his third match, dark secrets begin to be revealed and when Dillon learns the truth, only he can make everything right, even if it means sacrificing his own life.
From actor and director Jason Connery comes this pretty well-made mixed martial arts drama. The screenplay, written by Adam Mervis (who co-stars as Dillon’s parole officer Ryan), revolves around a former wrestler who after serving a prison sentence for murder, seeks to go straight. However, as the tagline reads, to get out, he must go back in. Mervis may have seemed to mesh a lot of action clichés (love story, trainer/student, loan shark), but for some reason, it all works out well here.
THE UNIT’s Wes Chatham does well in the pivotal role of Dillon McGuire, the titular “Philly Kid”. Dillon is seen as someone who was once hailed as a champion, only to fall by being at the wrong place and wrong time. Chatham does quite well in the physical department as he handles his fight scenes well while former child actor Devon Sawa plays the mandatory troubled best friend who is responsible for the protagonist having to do something he never wanted to do.
Neal McDonough, best known for his roles in WALKING TALL (2004) and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) plays the required trainer/former champion who takes the protagonist under his wing. McDonough plays the interestingly named “L.A. Jim” as a ego-tripping yet guilt-ridden fellow who finds himself similar to Dillon, a man on a road to redemption, until extenuating circumstances arise. Those who expect Michael Jai White to do his shtick will be highly disappointed as he has minimal screen time as Arthur Letts, an unscrupulous former fighter turned coach whose actions make an impact over the course of the film. Even Kristopher Van Varenburg (yes, Jean Claude Van Damme’s son) is relegated to a cameo in the opening of the film.
Former UFC fighter Rich Clementi served as the MMA liaison of the film and did very well in training lead actor Chatham for the film. The cage fights look quite good for the most part. There are times when there is that extreme close up shot that makes fights look queasy, but there are some nice overhead and slow motion shots that ultimately make the action quite decent here.
THE PHILLY KID is definitely worth checking out. Wes Chatham and Devon Sawa drive in the dramatic portion while Chatham looks quite good in the fight department. Worth a rental.