If you’ve been following my blog you know that I am not much of a sports fan, while I did enjoy the classics like Rocky, Hoosiers and A League of their own, this is a genre that I have never really felt a connection to.
When Shiner was presented to me for a review, I considered passing on it but I thought that maybe I was being a little single minded, perhaps this film would be a surprise, an underdog champion if you will. Boy was I mistaken.
The story is about Matt (Seya Hug), a young up-and-coming fighter determined to find his place in the very competitive, and dangerous world of Mixed Martial Arts. He soon finds his hero, a washed up former champion turned hustler by the name of Happy McBride (Kevin Bernhardt) who, although reluctant at first, agrees to see what this kid has. However, Matt soon falls for Happy’s daughter Nikki (Shannon Staller) so, of course, things get complicated.
From the description above you would think this film would be a typical attempt at the classic champion-in-the-making story not unlike Creed or Rocky. Somehow though, Shiner finds a way to tell a story with mixed martial arts as a backdrop without any real fighting but a ton of attempted character development instead. The story appears to follow Matt (Hug), a young kid desperate to become an MMA fighter, but the real story is about Happy McBride (Bernhardt), a washed up former champion turned trainer who really just wants a chance at the ring one more time.
Now, even with the sort of bait and switch nature of the film, it really had a chance to be something special, the problem is, it just keeps getting in it’s own way. Star and Writer Kevin Bernhardt may be a solid actor but his attempts at a layered story in Shiner just doesn’t seem to work. The film is jarring in it’s attempts to tell Matt’s ‘rough childhood’ story juxtaposed with Happy’s ‘redemption tale’ while neither really ever coming across as fully realized characters. Even with a truly tragic backstory, Happy only manages to appear as more of a colossal jerk than the scoundrel with a heart of gold he is meant to be. There is an old rule in writing, ‘kill your darlings’, sadly, it seems Mr. Bernhardt ignored that advice.
That being said, Kevin Bernhardt is really one of the strongest actors in the film. Having a lengthy stint in front of the camera, including a decade on General Hospital, Bernhardt still has the chops needed to carry a film. While he isn’t perfect in this particular film,to be honest, I am surprised that we haven’t seen him on a TV series like Arrow in recent years. I mean, I loved him in Hellraiser III but then again, you know how much I adore horror films, even bad ones!
Everyone else in the film is either forgettable or really just not as fully realized as they could have been. Seya Hug, who plays Matt, is not very believable as a young MMA fighter but over the course of the film you get the sense that he is actually a halfway decent actor held back by the largely unedited script. I don’t have a doubt that we will see him again in a teen drama on the CW or in the next movie adaptation of a young adult book. He has the presence, he just needs a little more practice to nail it.
That brings us to Shannon Staller, who plays Happy’s daughter Nikki. Sadly, Shannon’s role is little more than the halfhearted love interest for Matt and the source of deep regret for Happy. Ms. Staller never really feels like she belongs in her scenes with either of the actors and unfortunately could have been removed from the film with little loss to the story. In her defense, this is Shannon’s first substantial role in a US production so she is obviously still working around some of the language barriers. Unfortunately the filmmakers thought it sensible to include a line that explained away her clearly European accent, ‘ I spent some time in Montreal when I was younger’. Uhm…I don’t think that is how accents work and if they did, I doubt you would have a European accent from living there for a short time. Just saying.
The film itself comes across as either a Lifetime movie special or a modern attempt at the classic 90’s NBC Tv Movies like She Fought Alone or Too Young to Die. While these films did help launch the careers of actors like Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis and Brian Austin Green, the movies themselves were pretty forgettable.
The Bottom Line
Featuring the feature film directorial debut of Seo Mutarevic, the story of Shiner is a redemption story all with an MMA backdrop. In many ways this film comes across as a direct to video film trying to riff off of Rocky or Creed but every time it seems to find it’s footing, it gets sucker-punched by empty attempts at character depth. Had the filmmakers focused more on the actual fighting than the halfhearted attempts at tugging on the audiences heartstrings, or just made Happy’s story the core of Shiner, it could have been more than just a direct to video attempt at a fighting film. It’s not a terrible film, but it is one that never seems to figure out exactly what it wants to be.
All in all, Shiner has good story buried deep under a swollen eye. It just needed a little more time in the gym before stepping into the ring.
If you are still interested in giving this one a viewing, TriCoast Entertainment has released Mutarevic’s action-packed fighter film SHINER onto US digital platforms (Fandango, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, XBOX Live, Hoopla, Playstation and Amazon coming soon) and it is available now. Watch the trailer for SHINER here on Vimeo.
Late To The Game 11/8/18
Thank you for reading today. I hope you enjoyed the review. If you would like to read more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday. We also have a fun Retro TV Review series in which we are currently reviewing the entire Star Trek The Next Generation Series, episode by episode.
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