Somebody Brawl Security! Ejiofor tries to punch up Redbelt?s plot.

Redbelt ends with a hug. That isn’t exactly a spoiler, but it is revealing that an unexpected, highly corny embrace serves as both the final scene and final nail of a martial-arts film that likely will nag you to consider an act of sacrilege: calling bullshit on David Mamet. It’s not that the celebrated writer-director’s foray into the world of Brazilian jujitsu isn’t generally intriguing or well-acted (especially compared to genre peers such as the recent Never Back Down). But by the end of its serpentine, even-a-sports-flick-can-house-a-con-story plot, you may be too busy rolling your eyes to care. Rabid fans argue that even minor Mamet is a treat, and that assessment is usually correct—Spartan and State and Main can’t compare to House of Games or Glengarry Glen Ross, but they were still acerbic fun. Redbelt, in contrast, just offers self-seriousness, too few fights, and dialogue whose clipped, overlapping rhythms miss the poetry mark and go straight to grating. The story starts simply, following Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the owner and teacher of a Los Angeles jujitsu academy, whose samurai code of ethics has kept him from ever competing professionally or, to the exasperation of his fabric-designer wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), keeping his school’s finances in the black. Following an after-hours accident at the studio involving a tweaky lawyer (Emily Mortimer) and the handgun of Mike’s top student, a police officer named Joe (Max Martini), Sondra begs Mike to ask her club-owning, fight-promoter brother (Rodrigo Santoro) for a loan to make repairs. Mike’s visit to the club doesn’t secure him immediate green but a more serendipitous opportunity when he saves the ass of movie star Chet Frank (a surprisingly vulnerable Tim Allen) in an unprovoked fight; soon the Franks and the Terrys are getting friendly and talking business. But is it all a ruse to force Mike into fighting in an upcoming—and, gasp, possibly fixed—mixed-martial-arts competition? As Mike’s seeming turn in luck starts to reverse itself again, it’s impossible to figure out who’s part of a scam and who’s just being an asshole. Loose-string characters, and there are plenty of ’em, are never so much tied together as tossed in the same general direction, resulting in the story’s ultimate ticket being, ridiculously, Mike Terry vs. The World. At this point, Ejiofor’s character crosses the line from admirably earnest to unbelievably saintly—and it becomes clear Mamet’s biggest con is on you.