American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Walter Hill's "Undisputed" is like a 1940s Warner Bros. B picture, and I mean that as a compliment. With efficiency and laconic skill, it sets up the situation, peoples it with clearly drawn characters, and heads for a showdown. There is a kind of pleasure to be had from its directness, from its lack of gimmicks, from its classical form. And just like in the Warners pictures, there is also the pleasure of supporting performances from character actors who come onstage, sing an aria, and leave.
The movie stars Ving Rhames as "Iceman" Chambers, heavyweight champion of the world, recently convicted of rape in a plot obviously inspired by Mike Tyson's misadventures. He's sentenced to the maximum-security Sweetwater Prison in the Mohave Desert, which has an active boxing program. The Sweetwater champion is Monroe Hutchen (Wesley Snipes), and a showdown between the two men is inevitable.
First, though, Iceman has to challenge the leader of the most powerful gang behind bars, and spend some times in solitary as punishment. If he hadn't done that, he explains, he'd be dead. And Monroe has to hear stories about how he's not the undisputed champion any longer.
Also resident in this prison is Emmanuel (Mendy) Ripstein (Peter Falk), an aging Mafioso who still wields enormous clout inside and beyond the prison walls. He even has his own personal assistant. Ripstein is a fight fan. He agrees with the prevailing opinion that there must be a bout to settle the prison championship, and arranged odds with his Vegas contacts. There will even be a payoff for the two fighters, and Snipes is adamant in negotiating a bigger percentage for himself. The Iceman seems more concerned with survival, and Rhames has a direct, unaffected way with his dialogue that is quietly convincing.