AKA: Female Fight Club
Director: Miguel A. Ferrer
Cast: Amy Johnston, Cortney Palm, Rey Goyos, Sean Faris, Dolph Lundgren, Shaun Brown, Levy Tran, Folake Olowofoyeku, Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez, Jeanette Samano, Briana Marin, Chuck Zito
Running Time: 90 min.
By Z Ravas
Hot on the heels of Lady Bloodfight’s Netflix debut, Lionsgate has released Amy Johnston’s other martial arts film, the movie formerly known as Female Fight Club, via On Demand services. Unfortunately for fans of the talented stuntwoman-turned-actress, this movie fails to deliver exactly what its title promises: there may be plenty of women in the cast, but there is precious little fighting to be had during its 95 minute runtime. It’s hard to say exactly where the production went wrong, but when hulking Swede Dolph Lundgren is the highlight of a movie that’s supposed to be about female empowerment, you know you’re in trouble.
Female Fight Squad starts out promisingly enough: Amy Johnston plays a troubled young woman who has fled her violent, street fighting past in Las Vegas to live the quiet life of an animal shelter worker in Los Angeles. It’s in these scenes that Johnston is at her most likable: it’s easy to relate to her passion for animals, and the affection she shows to a three-legged dog who remains unadopted is touching. However, when some shady dog fighters show up to the animal shelter looking for their pitbull, Johnston is forced to throw down; the resulting beating she delivers to the two much larger men ends up on YouTube thanks to the shelter’s security cameras, and all of a sudden Johnston finds herself in the fighting world spotlight once again. Her sister, played by Courtney Palm, arrives on her doorstep with some bad news: she’s deep in debt to a shady promoter (Rey Goyos), and the only way out is for Johnston to train her sister’s team (the titular Female Fight Squad) and earn back the dough in the ring.
With that, Johnston heads back to her old stomping grounds, reconnecting with both the owner of her former gym (portrayed by Chuck Zito, veteran stuntman, actor, and former president of the New York chapter of the Hell’s Angels) and an old flame, played by Never Back Down’s Sean Faris. She trains her sister’s fighters, including some charismatic actresses like Levy Tran, although the ‘training’ mostly involves Johnston dropping them to the mat with a well-placed kick or two. The investment Johnston makes into teaching them ends up feeling like a waste of both her character’s time and the viewer’s time, however, as the Female Fight Squad fails to stand a chance against the current street-fighting champ Claire the Bull (stunt performer Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez).
Female Fight Squad commits two cardinal sins of the direct-to-video action movie genre: there is precious little fighting, and director Miguel A. Ferrer wastes too much film on an over-the-top bad guy (Goyos) whose misjudged performance seems to be trying to channel a Nicolas Cage level of quirkiness. There’s an early encounter between Johnston and Goyos in a library, in which his Goyos expresses his fondness for crafting bird houses as his way of offering a home for broken things. This comes across as a metaphor for his underground club, one that might reveal something about this character’s psychology and his desire to cultivate female fighters. Only the metaphor is completely undone later when Johnston arrives at Goyos’ warehouse and finds a bunch of birdhouses strewn about – a silly image that couldn’t make the villain seem any less threatening. Another moment sees the actor trying to glower menacingly while eating an ice cream bar on top of a freezer stuffed full of body parts. To describe this character as ridiculous would be an understatement.
It must be said Dolph Lundgren is not in the movie much, but he makes the most of his small turn, portraying Johnston’s tough-as-nails father serving a prison term for a murder he may or may not have committed. He gets one fairly hard-hitting fight scene in jail that might be the highlight of the movie – perhaps tellingly, it’s the one scene from Female Fight Squad that Miguel A. Ferrer includes in his director’s reel. Dolph even makes a winking joke about his character having a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering (spoiler: Dolph has one in real life). His role continues the trend of Johnston’s characters having martial arts-trained fathers, a nod to the actress’ own dad. Chuck Zito serves as another paternal figure in the movie, and his Sylvester Stallone-esque fighting coach offers some much needed warmth to the movie.
The problem with Female Fight Squad is that it fails to show us just what Johnston can do. Her turn in Lady Bloodfight, along with her stunt work in movies like Suicide Squad and Deadpool, proved that Johnston possesses formidable fighting skills, but the action scenes in Squad are frustratingly brief and few and far between. It must be said that the fighting on display is captured in a fairly respectful manner – free of choppy editing or claustrophobic framing – and I’m sure budgetary and time constraints played a part in the lack of martial arts work. It may be worth pointing out that this is director Miguel A. Ferrer’s debut feature, and his previous credits primarily include short films and music videos. Everybody has to start somewhere, but at this point the direct-to-video world is a crowded market filled with some fairly quality and action-packed titles. As such, I can’t recommend this film to anyone but Johnston’s most ardent fans, those who will be content just to witness the actress in another starring role. For my part, I consider myself along those fans – and while I don’t regret watching Female Fight Squad at all, I have to be honest and say I walked away from the movie disappointed. Here’s hoping that Amy Johnston is allowed to shine with her supporting turn in Jesse V. Johnson’s upcoming comic book adaptation Accident Man.
By Z Ravas’ Rating: 4/10