I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Smashing Machine

tn_smashingmachineTHE SMASHING MACHINE is a documentary about Mark Kerr, at the time an undefeated fighter in UFC, Pride and other mixed martial arts competitions. The director is John Hyams, whose UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION was so unexpectedly great I felt compelled to watch everything else he’s directed. In fact, Van Damme’s admiration of this movie is apparently what got Hyams the gig on the ol’ UNISOL.

The opening got me right away because it’s a voiceover on top of fight footage, and something seems wrong. The gentle, almost nerdy voice that’s talking to us doesn’t seem to match this muscleman we’re watching use his bare hands and feet to take flesh that God shaped in His own image and reconfigure it into an ugly pile of of bruise and injury. If Mark Kerr called you on the phone and said, “I’m the Smashing Machine,” you’d hear his voice and you’d never believe him. You’d hang up. But it’s true, he’s the Smashing Machine. And also a nice, thoughtful guy.

mp_smashingmachineKerr started as a wrestler – not pro-wrestling, the other kind – but he needed money and found out about this fighting circuit in Thailand. (Same way people get into porn.) He laughs about being so terrified he couldn’t sip a Dixie cup of water without throwing up. But he destroyed the guy and never looked back. He fights UFC until they get banned from cable, then goes to Japan for Pride FC. But during the filming he loses a fight for the first time ever, then has to back out of another one.

The problem, the movie shows, is a lack of focus. He has two major distractions.

1. His girlfriend Dawn, who he’s stupid enough to bring to fights with him, and she gets needy and tries to get his attention even while he’s trying to focus before a fight. Also she gets him to go out drinking when he should be training and gets in big crazy fights with him when he should be sleeping.

2. Drugs. Man, this guy is really addicted to painkillers. He makes THE WRESTLER look like a lightweight. You should see how many syringes and pill bottles he has laying around. WHen he decides to quit and gathers up all the shit he has it fills up a whole grocery bag.

The movie is perfectly crafted to put you into the mentality of a fighter. This is sort of the idea I got from the movie: in the beginning, men fought. Then they found out about women and chemicals. That made them not as good.

The people who are the best are the ones completely dedicating their lives to fighting. You watch this movie and every time Dawn shows up you think “Uh oh, he’s gonna blow it.” At one point he’s broken up with her and things seem to be going well. Then all the sudden he’s in training and she’s there, all gussied up too like she’s trying to lure him. (Same way Bugs Bunny defeated some of his foes.) They reveal her presence a piece at a time – first a shot of her high heel, then a piece of her short skirt. It’s like she’s the shark in JAWS.

This is my favorite type of documentary, the verite or direct cinema style, fly on the wall – but assuming that this particular fly that’s on the wall is a great storyteller. This is the same instincts that made UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION, the ones that don’t try to spell everything out for you. And they’re very good at leaving things unsaid until they’re important, then give you just enough information when it’s needed.

The story of Mark Kerr at this time is the story of a guy who loses his discipline, loses his edge, but at least got sober. Otherwise he’d be dead. But the story of THE SMASHING MACHINE is the story of Kerr and his buddy Mark Coleman, a fighter who seems to have given up on his dream so he can help others who still have a shot. But then while Kerr is in rehab Coleman stages a huge comeback. It ends cutting between the two guys after a big tournament, a contrast of highs and lows. Some people get to the top of the world, some just lay there and cry. Everybody gets beat up.

I have to admit that I groaned when the end told me Mark and Dawn later got married. These events leave you believing in a strict kicks-before-chicks credo. She seemed like a bad influence who got him drinking beer when he should’ve been totally clean and had to always cause drama at the exact times that it would fuck him over. After he loses the first match of his career she says she knew he would, because he wasn’t training that hard, and the other night they went out partying. As if she couldn’t have said anything at the time. I mean obviously it’s his fault, but what kind of a girlfriend doesn’t say anything when you’re flushing your dreams down the toilet?

The movie made me hate her, but that’s from the POV of wanting to see him be this perfect warrior. From the perspective of a human being though maybe family is more important than smashing. I hope they both sobered up and were good for each other. On a commentary track the director and producer both say that Dawn is actually a nice person and that they kept wishing Mark would quit fighting for his own good. So maybe it’s better in the long run.

Anyway, Coleman has a wife and two daughters, he still has the edge. So you don’t necessarily have to be a monk.

If you rent it be sure to also check out Hyams’ 35-minute short documentary FIGHT DAY, which is one of the special features. Seemingly made out of outtakes from SMASHING MACHINE, FIGHT DAY follows Renzo Gracie of the famous Gracie Brazilian Jui-Jitsu empire through the course of a day when he has a big fight. My favorite part is how it shows a big event from the perspective of a guy waiting backstage. You see all these incredible fighters warming up, preparing themselves mentally, going out to fight. But it stays with Gracie and doesn’t show what happened in their fights. Suddenly, they reappear with puffy faces, covered in blood and cuts, some of them not happy about what has happened. He looks at them and then looks away, trying to stay focused.

THE SMASHING MACHINE is a great documentary. I watched it a few days after first seeing REGENERATION, and it’s really stuck with me in the weeks since then. Whether he’s doing a documentary or the fourth sequel to a Roland Emmerich movie, Hyams has an eye for what’s interesting and how to mold it into the best story. This guy is no joke. I hope he has more in the works.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010 at 2:34 am and is filed under Documentary, Reviews, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

27 Responses to “The Smashing Machine”

  1. the title sounds like it’d make a good name for a band

  2. “It’s like she’s the shark in Jaws.” Damn, that’s funny. My girlfriends always hate when I fight, even though I’ve got a good record and most of my Army matches are nonstriking. When the next one starts to complain or wants me to do something that will detract from my training, I’ll show her this film and then turn it off before the end.

    No ring goes on this finger.

  3. YES!! You saw this film! I saw this doc’ 3 or 4 years ago (maybe more) and absolutely was taken with it. I never met anyone who ever saw it before. I actually bought it. SMASH MACHINE is a great documentery and love the JAWS analogy about the girlfriend. It’s so true. I have mix love/hate feelings about her from a viewer perspective… she’s hot but man, did I dislike her and wish Kerr would kick her to the curb (not literally).

    I found this doc’ very appealing and fascinating. Everytime I see it I notice something else (usually I watch it with the director commentary on) and have been a fan of Mark Coleman since then. I think, however, Kerr got out at the right time because his style never would have carried over to today’s well-rounded fighters. Kerr was a freakishly strong (steriods? you bet) wrestler who didn’t appear to have much stand up. Although I for one wouldn’t want his monsterous knees hitting me in the face.

    One of, if not, my favorite doc.

  4. I saw this years ago on Cinemax and it does stay with you for days, just the sheer brutality of it all. That fighters are incredibly powerful and so vulnerable at the same time. The poor guy was fighting so stoned and took such a horrible beating he is trying to do that British tourist speak louder and the foreigner will understand you bit to the Japanese doctor – NARCOTICS!!!

    She was revealed like the shark in Jaws, I was just watching like heel (no) skirt (NO) face (NNNOOO!!!) stay away from her, she will mess you up!!! I would have been like sorry honey, I want to get back with you too, especially with you looking like such an erudite wit, not like a bored stripper on the afternoon shift at all, we can discuss Malthus and Kant, sip tea and eat scones. Darling, it’s just that right now there is an Ichi the Killer looking dude who does nothing day and night but train to beat me into a bloody pulp in this kind of ultimate fight thing I’ve got going on? So if you could just go away, far far away until I have this fight, that would be great.

  5. I don’t know if you’re an MMA fan and already know this, Vern, but unfortunately Mark did not stop fighting for his own good. He continued to have personal problems and lose fights after the doc, and still shows up every so often, tubby and out of shape, to embarrass himself and take a beating for a paycheck. I don’t know if he’s in dire financial straits or what, but he fought as recently as this August and got destroyed in seconds by rising prospect “King Mo”. Since the movie, he’s gone 2-10. I don’t know if he ever quit drugs and Dawn, but he certainly quit trying a long time ago. It’s pretty sad.

    Coleman fared moderately better. He at least won a couple fights here and there, but never really advanced his game since 1996 and took a lot of one-sided beatings. Recently he actually made it back to the UFC and even won a surprising victory over a popular mid-level fighter Stephan Bonnar. Unfortunately that qualified him to face Randy Couture and take a completely demoralizing beatdown. He got dropped from the organization and will hopefully finally retire with some dignity. But probably not.

    I think that super-competitive wrestler mentality just won’t let these guys know when to say when. Coleman at least still has the drive and just not the physical ability to back it up, but Kerr on the other hand looks to just be going through the motions. Personally I’d be really interested to see a follow-up documentary and find out how he got to this point.

  6. Yeah, DW I agree with a follow up. It might even be more interesting in the current day-in-the-life of Mark Kerr or even the woman of his life. Imagine if she divorced him and now lives with an accountant?

  7. Great review Vern. As a fan of MMA since the inception of the UFC I have been looking forward to seeing this documentary. However, I had no idea John Hyams directed it. Now I want to see it even more. USR was excellent. I think it is only a matter of time before Hyams is handling big budget projects.

  8. Oh, and for the record Mark Coleman’s best years are behind him but the dude is a beast. Just look at his recent fights with Stephan Bonnar and Mauricio Rua. Both very entertaining, but I do agree with DW that is time for him to hang it up. However, I would not mind seeing him fight Ortiz before he calls it a career.

  9. I meant to mention that I know nothing about MMA, but thought the movie did a good job of making it understandable. I like watching fights sometimes but haven’t followed it at all.

    Also, how the fuck has that Ricardo Morais guy not played a bad guy in a movie yet? I couldn’t find a picture online that really captures how menacing he looks in this movie. Put some scales on that dude and send him after Wolverine.

  10. Whenever I see Mark Coleman I can’t help but think about the face kick from Pete Willams that starts this video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGLz0UI1J_Y

    He never really was the same after that.

  11. Wouldn’t John Hyams be a perfect director for the next Wolverine movie?

  12. Not about this movie…

    But its NINJA day!!!! I just read Harry really didn’t like it in the dvd column over at AICN. But I usually don’t gauge my likes by his opinions. I trust mine more.

    So I’m going out to pick up a copy righhhhhhht now. I can’t wait.

    And hey VERN I saw you posted on the dvd talkback defending Ninja/Adkins/Florentine. Good on you sir.

  13. no offense, but I can’t imagine these MMA guys are very intelligent after being punched and kicked in the head hundreds of times, that stuff’s got to mess with your brain

    *WHAM*there goes high school! *WHAM* there goes college! *WHAM* there goes kindergarten!

  14. It’s said that even a gentle knock on one’s head, roughly slightly less than the force than you would use to knock on the door of a smallish apartment, kills 3 brain cells.

  15. Yeah, this one is great. They were trying to make a biopic with actors out of it a couple of years ago, not sure what happened to that though. No way they could improve on this.

    I do think there is a great fictional movie to be made about MMA. A Scorsese style drama about the toll obsessive professions can take on relationships. Redbelt (which I love) doesn’t really count for me as an MMA movie, because it’s ultimately portrays the sport quite negatively (and the gimmick tourney fights would probably never get past any athletic commissions) in comparison to pure Jiu-jitsu.

    It’s a fascinating world peopled by characters from diverse countries, races and backgrounds, more so than boxing I’d argue. For instance, you have Rich Franklin (a former Math teacher) fighting Dan Henderson (An Olympian) then Wanderlei Silva (who apparently started fighting for money in Brazil in his early teens, competing in Head-butty groin-kicky IVC tourneys). And that’s before you get into characters like GSP, BJ Penn or the Shamrocks and Gracies. Or all the crazy Japanese guys like Saku, Minowa and Aoki.

    Sorry to go off on one – but movies and MMA are pretty much my fave things so talk about them on my favorite websight is pretty sweet.

    DW, have you seen any of these dire-looking DTV films the MMA guys keep doing. I haven’t dared yet…

  16. Yes, MMA is bad, but the knockouts are (usually) quick and brutal. One or two hard shots to the head and they go down. And a good portion of the time people tap out from submissions. In boxing, on the other hand, they wear padded gloves so that they can put a hell of a lot of force into the punches and still do just barely less damage than it would take to knock the other guy out cold. Boxers get hit in the head a lot more than MMA fighters as a result and you get tragedies like Muhammed Ali.

    Not that anybody should get hit in the head on a regular basis.

  17. Griff , most MMA fighters are intelligent people with college degrees. You don’t see too many that got into fighting because they were from the streets like most boxers.

  18. Funny enough, the last guy Coleman beat has like 2 (3?) Master’s degrees. I don’t know why you’d need that many, but he’s obviously not dumb. Kenny Florian also strikes me as very, very smart.

    If Mark Kerr came up today he would be dominating and not doing nearly as much damage to his body. The man had his first 7 fights in less than a year. That’s two years or more nowadays. It’s a shame really. I’d love to see a young Kerr vs Lesnar.

  19. Lawrence – I never said they weren’t intelligent to begin with, what I was saying is that I don’t think that intelligence would stick around after being punched in the head numerous times

  20. Heh… Ricardo Morais had a few more fights, but really had no skills beyond being huge. (In Japanese MMA, that will take you a *VERY* long way. Godzilla syndrome I suppose.) I have not heard peep one about the guy in about 5 years. I assume they finally released him into whichever Amazonian wetlands they originally discovered him in.

    Telf, I saw about 5 minutes of the DTV Terminator ripoff starring Rich Franklin, and could not handle any more. Look, I’m glad these guys can earn a few bucks doing something that does not involve getting kicked in the face… but as a viewer, it’s just not worth subjecting yourself to. They can’t all be Don Frye. (I’m still waiting for Captain Gordon to get his own spinoff.)

    Charles, I’m gonna have to disagree with you. Not to go too MMA-centric because this is not the website for it, but Coleman is far from a beast. He’s got super strength and super temper tantrums, but otherwise is an unremarkable one-dimensional wrestler with no gas tank, and always has been. That used to be enough, and will still occasionally get you a decent decision, but come on. That ridiculous Rua slopfest was hilariously bad.

    Along the same lines, I have to disagree with Lawrence too. I think that used to be the case a few years ago. With the inexplicable recent surge in popularity, the sport’s been inundated with the douchebag Affliction-and-Tapout-gear frat boy meatheaded professional sports culture. I love that I get to see events every 2 weeks instead of every 4 months, but otherwise I really hate the direction in which the sport has headed.

  21. Darth Irritable

    March 3rd, 2010 at 7:33 am

    Griff – you actually get hit in the head a lot more boxing and kickboxing than MMA. I competed in amateur MMA for a while: I have multiple degrees, and I’m far from special needs. I can tell you first hand: kickboxers and boxers are far more intellectually damaged (and I suspect capable to begin with) than MMA fighters.
    Two reasons:
    1. MMA fighters lose by a variety of options, including submission – which does not typically cause brain damage.
    2. The complexity of options available to an MMA competitor (anaconda choke, triangle, armbar, heel hook, RNC, punch, kick, elbow, etc etc) tends to require a smarter fighter than the baseline required to string together a few punches….

    Not to say that a boxer or kickboxer is less capable, but the discipline itself requires a higher entry point.

  22. DW, I don’t disagree with your analysis of Coleman. I guess I should have been more clear by what I meant by calling him a beast. Yes, Coleman has a limited skill set. He is a from an era when guys only trained in one discipline, and he is really nothing more than a wrestler who has competed in MMA. He is also been a juiced up meathead prone to over the top fits of roid rage for the majority of his career (I remember him having some wild ones in Pride). However, he is a big strong animal of man who can take a beating and give a beating, and was doing it when there was not the level of money or celebrity that is now found in the sport. He often ran out of gas, but he was always game. I think the Rua fight was a good example of this. Yes, it was sloppy and far from a shining example of what the sport has to offer. Both guys were gassed and incapable performing anywhere near their best, but they kept going and it made for good drama. I personally thought Coleman was winning the fight before getting knocked out in the final seconds. Considering how good Shogun has looked more recently especially against Machida I think that makes Coleman’s effort against him even more impressive. Granted the Shogun Coleman fought that night was not the same Shogun that fought Liddell or Machida, but Coleman was not at his best that evening either. I think that fight was Coleman’s first time fighting at light heavyweight and it showed. He looked much better against Bonnar.

  23. Charles, DW – Yup, you have to respect the old guys – just wish they’d stop throwing them to the young wolves.

    Back to movies. The Uni Sol, A Team and Knockout trifecta may be a new dawn in MMA crossover history. I wonder if this will cause an explosion of even more DTV rip jobs with fighters in the leads – or a new trend of less-experienced (acting-wise) but legitimately badass tough guy/girl leads in theatrical productions.

    Like, remember how rappers often had to appear to be legitimately tough and street-proven. Maybe action stars will come to have the same expectation.

  24. Wasn’t sure where else to put this, hope it’s okay here

    The Hurt Business - Teaser Trailer (HD) | Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey MMA Movie

    Watch The Hurt Business Teaser Trailer featuring Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey. For more information on this MMA movie visit www.facebook.com/TheHurtBusinessMov...

    – I think this looks fantastic.

  25. Cool, I’ll keep an eye out for that. Is that gonna be a theatrical release?

  26. Vern – I’ve seen a few articles reference a fall theatrical release date but can’t lock down anything specific. Apparently it’s narrated by Kevin Costner!!

  27. I wonder if they have footage of Jon Jones taking PEDs?

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