Plot: An infamous, brutal underground fight club, The Circuit allows martial artists to test their skills in a no holds barred, sometimes lethal environment. This violence is all in the name of cold, hard cash and massive volumes of bets are placed on the fights, trading men’s lives for a rich payout. While The Circuit has claimed the lives of more fighters than you could count, few are able to escape and are forced to return over and over, until they meet a tragic defeat. But Dirk Longstreet (Olivier Gruner) is one of the rare exceptions, as he broke free from The Circuit, though now he finds himself poised to return, on his own terms. As the gangsters who control The Circuit have taken his brother, Dirk must once navigate the treacherous fight circle and figure out how to survive and save his brother.
Entertainment Value: This movie was made in the early 2000s, but The Circuit looks and feels like pure 90s action cinema, for better or worse. I love that, as I love to pore over piles of direct to video cheese from the 90s, especially when the lead is someone as dependable as Olivier Gruner. The narrative is straight forward, with a little crime and a focus on the fight tournament, both of which are elements that let Gruner and his costars get down to action often. I liked the fight circle location, as it seemed in line with where rich people would wager on battles to the death, even if not all of the actual fights were much to write home about. Some of the clashes were fun, but I would have liked to see more colorful combatants and perhaps more varied styles, to spice up what turn out to be competent, but unmemorable fights. There is a good amount of action however, as well as some women in lingerie and cheesy one liners, so The Circuit hits most of the direct to video bullet points. The only real knock is that the movie is just solid, never really pushing things to that next level, but sometimes a solid action movie is just what you need.
As I mentioned above, the presence of Olivier Gruner is often reason enough to lure me into a movie, as he is a reliable action star. Even if his resume isn’t littered with top tier action movies, Gruner himself adds a lot to just about any film he’s part of, so he’s often able to elevate even mediocre action flicks. He has the lead in The Circuit and gets to flex his martial arts skills a little and throw down, but he also has to do a little dramatic work as well. I think he handles the serious tone well, even if the material isn’t all that sharp, he is able to make it work enough. He shines in the action scenes or when he just gets to be a tough guy, but Gruner is more than passable in the exposition moments. I was also thrilled to see Billy Drago pop up in this one, even if his role is a smaller one and he doesn’t get too wild. He is a welcome presence and adds to The Circuit’s appeal, without question. The cast also includes Bryan Genesse, Michael Chow, and of course, UFC announcer Bruce Buffer.