Sean Patrick Flanery stars in and co-writes the winning sports drama, Born a Champion from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Directed by Alex Ranarivelo, the film opens in a documentary style. Our narrator Taco (Maurice Compte), explains how he met Mickey Kelley (Flanery), one of the first American black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The film then goes back to the nineties and takes on Mickey's journey. He meets the love of his life Layla (Katrina Bowden) and perfects his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When Layla reveals that she is pregnant, Mickey decides to travel to Dubai to fight Marco (Edson Barboza). Mickey is under the assumption that the unsanctioned match will result in an easy payday. In traditional sports movie fashion, Mickey is battered in the fight and ruptures his eye socket.
The years pass, and Mickey finds work as a janitor and a bouncer while enjoying life as a family man. However, when it's revealed that Marco actually cheated to win the fight, Mickey sees his chance for redemption against his wife's better judgment. One of the first things you will notice in the film is the authenticity in the fight scenes. Sean Patrick Flanery actually holds both a black belt in karate and in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Also, there were no stunt doubles used for any of the fight or sparring scenes.
At its core, Born a Champion is your traditional underdog sports story that we've seen on screen many times before. The strength in the film is in Sean Patrick Flanery and Alex Ranarivelo's arc for Mickey. While Mickey is naturally talented in the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he only uses it when necessary. Therefore we don't have any scenes of street fights or illegal matches. Every fight sequence in the film serves a purpose and pushes the plot along.
In the lead role, Sean Patrick Flanery has excellent chemistry with Katrina Bowden, who portrays his wife. The duo has a believable love story. I was fond of Flannery's chemistry with Maurice Compte and Reno Wilson, who portrays Pitt, a former competitor of Mickey's who gives him a training job in his gym. Dennis Quaid shows up as a man who sees dollar signs in Marco and sets up the two's rematch fight. The script avoids turning Quaid into a Don King persona. The third act reveals a connection to Sean Patrick Flanery's character that fully works and doesn't come off as forced.
Despite its obviously low budget, Born a Champion is highly recommended. The film is an excellent mixture of action, heart, and a tribute to Brazilian jiu-jitsu going mainstream in America.
Final Grade B+
Born a Champion is available for purchase wherever movies are sold.
In addition, the film is available for rent on demand and at your local Redbox