LIGHTS OUT: Frank Grillo Brings it in this Bare Knuckle Brawler

The action subgenre is one built on the foundation of the proper execution of tough guy tropes along with the delivery of the “goods” – action set pieces and bare knuckle brawls that work to further the “plot”. These flicks are then marketed by the name on the poster, since actors who specialize in action tend to stick to a particular flavor, since these films are essentially the comfort food of action fans. After moderate success in the multiplex, Frank Grillo has fully embraced these more modestly budgeted films to supplement his filmography. And thanks to his patented silent, yet stoic musclebound everyman, Frank imbues these mirobudget fighters with a bit more nuance than you’d get with your typical face on the box C-Lister. 

Grillo’s latest Lights Out (Which hits theaters today!) has him playing Duffy, a mysterious tortured vet with a past, who hitchhikes into LA to buy his mother a gravestone, only to get wrapped up in the world of underworld street fights to fund it. This is thanks to Mekhi Phifer who plays Max, the rogue with a heart of gold, who also has some big gambling debts he hopes to leverage Duffy’s two fisted talents to get him out of. To mix things up a bit, the criminal architects behind the illegal fights are a pair of bad cops, one played by early oughts superstar Jaime King, who is impressive here. My only quip with the cast would be, while super draw Scott Adkins is indeed on the poster, sadly he doesn’t really come in until the last 15 minutes. This particular practice is probably my biggest grievance with these films. 

Like his previous work in the action genre Grillo makes this film work, because he treats the material and his performance with a certain level of respect and completely understands the type of film he’s making. He is however in his element here as Duffy, we get the fights, the hyper masculine camaraderie and even a possible love interest in Max’s sister. I personally dug the dynamic between Phifer and Grillo who are a great duo, and that really helps when Duffy decides to go out of his way for this guy he just met. It’s something I appreciated, that I actually was invested in their friendship and it felt somewhat believable that he sticks around to help his new friend. 

As far as these fight flicks go, Lights Out does deliver “the goods” and is even quite entertaining to boot. The fights for the most part work as well. My only gripe would be the amateurish Street Fighter homage inserts, where Grillo punches someone so hard we see an X-ray and their bones shatter. It’s more distracting than anything else, and really brings you out of the brawls onscreen. As far as the plot goes, there’s your expected double crossing, along with a few other well worn bits, but the really fun part is when the detectives hope to take Duffy out of the game by having him square off against a cop in the ring. While Lights Out doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, it does gets a lot of mileage thanks to Grillo and Phifer who make it easily worth a watch. 

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