There’s precious little glory — and not even that much cage fighting — in “Chavez: Cage of Glory,” a poverty-row vanity project for Argentinian mixed martial arts champ Hector Echevarria, best known in movies for his supporting role in the hit early ‘90s action-comedy franchise “Los Extermineitors.” An apparent bid by the now U.S.-based writer-director-star to break out of a string of straight-to-DVD action fare (with titles like “Death Warrior” and “Death Calls”), this hilariously straight-faced inventory of moth-eaten fight-movie cliches opened Sept. 13 on a few dozen SoCal screens via Echevarria’s own Destiny Entertainment label, and just as promptly vacated them.
You know you’re in for a special kind of bad-movie experience when “Chavez: Cage of Glory” proffers characters with names like John Stone and Cage Fury without so much as a wink or a smile. The hulking Mr. Fury (played by Echevarria’s fellow real-life MMA competitor, the Dolph Lundgren-esque Heath Herring) is the movie’s prize catch, a world champion fighter whose last opponent ended up in a coma. But that doesn’t deter 42-year-old Hector “The Mexican” Chavez (Echevarria) from jumping at the chance to battle Fury in a high-profile televised bout — on Cinco de Mayo, no less.
As conceived by Echevarria, Hector is the ultimate hard-luck case: unemployed, barely scraping by with his earnings from the low-rent cage-fighting circuit (where the nefarious promoters further pick his pocket), hustled by two-bit thugs (led by the innately menacing Danny Trejo) who want him to join their street gang, and unable to provide adequate medical care for his terminally ill son, afflicted with one of those mysterious heart ailments that used to befall people in ‘30s melodramas. Even Hector’s leggy blonde wife (Sadie Katz) can scarcely go on a job interview without nearly being raped by her prospective employer. Nor is this level of misery anything new for our hero: flashbacks wreathed in a gauzy white light reveal that, as a child, Hector’s father quite literally beat him with one hand while guzzling booze with the other.
Echevarria certainly seems more comfortable in the cage than in these domestic scenes, but even at 92 minutes, “Cage of Glory” takes its sweet time getting there, with lots of training montages and further personal tragedies en route (cue “Scarface” alum Steven Bauer as Hector’s older brother, now a man of the cloth). Pic’s production “values” (or lack thereof) make the average telenovela look like “Masterpiece Theatre,” with scant attempt to disguise recycled locations and insert shots. Composer Niel Argo’s maudlin synthesizer score sounds like a Casio keyboard stuck in “funeral dirge” demo mode.