Some movies I watch because of my love of the art of cinema. Seven Samurai, Nashville, Goodfellas, and Amour rank high on my list of personal favorites. I watch other movies for reasons that are harder to defend. I'm thinking about 2011's Arena, whose current Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score is 26% (better than Identity Thief, worse than Gangster Squad). I'm watching Arena because of Kellan Lutz. I feel especially lutzful this week for complicated biographical reasons (which I'll spare you). Also, this movie interests me as kink fantasy and guilty pleasure (always a delight to watch Samuel L. Jackson phone in another performance in a made-for-crap movie). Since this blog is about kink, let's stick to the fantasy.
The fantasy is high-tech gladiatorial competition--illegal fights to the death--blending The Hunger Games and any Jean-Claude Van Damme movie you might still be able to name. It's the kind of lurid martial-arts movie the 1980s churned out like popcorn, gradually fostering straight-to-video marketing. Lutz plays a war vet turned suicidal by the sudden death of his pregnant wife. Now he's coerced into a series of death matches shot against a green screen in an underground soundstage. It's pretty much a fun and silly mess--with bloopers like Mandarin-speaking Japanese office clerks and steering wheels on the wrong side of vehicles, given the supposed geographical setting. It's 80 percent cliched tropes like "this time it's personal" and Starship Enterprise-inspired computer consoles, 20 percent full-frontal nudity and maraschino-cherry-colored gore. If that, in addition to Kellan Lutz's sweaty torso, fails to pique your interest, you need to give this movie a pass.
This kind of stuff can be classed-up in the hands of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. First-time (and, so far, only-time) director Jonah Loop simply keeps the camera lens clean and lets Lutz's stained, glistening pecs do all the work. On this count, I have no complaints. Earlier this week I talked an online buddy into coauthoring a fantasy involving Lutz in a ring contest against my buddy's choice of opponent. I decked the actor out in shimmering silver-gray trunks and red boots. I am, as I said, in the midst of a Kellan spree. The fight choreography in Arena looks fairly standard--and I find no MMA training listed in Lutz's IMDb credits. The pleasures of this movie depend, to a large extent, on your ability to reprocess its set pieces through your own imagination. (Try your hand, for instance, at revamping the staple-gun-versus-circular-saw match, shown briefly during a montage of the hero's "rise to the top" of the Death Games series. My cock's personal favorite, though, is the climactic shirtless bare-knuckles showdown between Lutz and head-henchman Johnny Messner, against a backdrop of burning Kuwaiti oilwells!)
What is the appeal of the fight-to-the-death scenario? Let me state, right off, that real mortal combat and gladiatorial contests do not interest me. What fascinates me about the staged, phony kind has to do with intensity, grittiness, romantic vigilantism, and sadism, which I enjoy in fantasy but not in actual life. The mortal aspect appeals to me because of its moral magnitude--deeds that cannot be undone, committed purposefully and unmercifully, usually in the name of "Justice." (Justice is an idea which obsesses me but in which I don't, in fact, actually believe. Like "Purity," it's an ethical ideal that has caused more evil than it has put to rest.) There's a dark beauty in all that--and no doubt it appeals to some un-evolved part of my brain, which has fused to the libido part of my brain, for some reason. My punishment kink is more tightly attached to the concept of justice than it is to pain, domination, or ownership. That link is probably why, unlike so many other wrestling fetishists, I prefer matches in which the heel is ultimately put down.
For me this film (kinda) works because of Kellan Lutz. His full-lipped, serenely angelic face atop his mannish but hairless 6'1" physique, accentuated with cosmetic scarring, makes him the image of an archangel of justice, like Michael in the Book of Daniel or on the wall behind the Sistine Chapel altar, or Paul Bettany in the 2010 schlockalyptic thriller Legion. In Arena, he takes on the demons of media-saturated culture and hyperreality, along with the criminal underworld. Innocence and cruelty bond in his character in an appealing way for me, even in a film that clumsily rips off Enter the Dragon, Cool Hand Luke, Roadhouse, Spartacus, Silence of the Lambs, Kill Bill, The Truman Show, and who knows what else. It never quite lives up to its potential as a camp classic, but it's easy to imagine that the filmmakers were shooting for a testosterone-charged version of Showgirls (almost certainly another of the movie's inspirations).
Oh, and here I'm throwing in some gratuitious non-film-related shots of hot young Kellan ...