Unlikely to entertain anyone not thrilled by the invitation “Let’s watch chicks pummel each other!,” “Raze” is a brutally monotonous fight-to-the-death-contest actioner whose novelty element — all-female competitors — is undermined by lack of imagination on every other level. Vehicle for veteran stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who was showcased to far better effect in Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” entry “Death Proof,” feels like an homage to ’80s straight-to-video cheapies, one that’s missing any humor but faithfully reproduces the bare-bones production values. Its fortunes, too, will skew toward home formats; it launches on VOD and iTunes Jan. 10, simultaneous with Los Angeles/New York theatrical openings.
Sabrina (Bell) is the surviving frontrunner so far among an original 50 women with various advanced physical combat skills. Abducted, they wake up in an underground bunker, where they’re forced to kill each other in unarmed bouts for an unknown audience via live video. If they lose or refuse, their loved ones are killed, too — no idle threat, as the women view these murders as well as each other’s fights via closed-circuit TV in their cells. None of them are happy to dispatch fellow prisoners — that is, none save Phoebe (Rebecca Marshall), a career criminal who thoroughly enjoys inflicting great bodily harm.
Little happens beyond one bloody one-on-one match after another, staged in a dreary, brick-lined, dirt-floored pit. When not fighting for their lives, the unwilling competitors must deal with a bullying chief guard (Bruce Thomas) and the smarmy couple (Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn) who act as announcer-hosts. This duo’s vague comments about an “organization” going back centuries provides scant context or intrigue, particularly in contrast to the elaborate sociopolitical rationale behind the forced combat in the “Hunger Games” films. Of course, those movies have tens of millions more in production resources, but “Raze” can’t blame its budget for the paucity of interesting ideas in Robert Beaucage’s thin script. Even when the action moves above ground at last, the narrative finds no surprising directions in which to go.
Performances are OK, given the one-note character writing. Helmer Josh Waller’s debut feature (he’s since completed a second, “McCanick”) is professionally packaged, but there’s simply too little variety to the narrative, action, settings and everything else here to save most viewers from boredom.