Review: Tyrese Gibson Gives a Stone Cold Performance in the By the Numbers & Forgettable Prison Fight Film THE SYSTEM

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Tyrese Gibson. His performance as Roman in the Fast and Furious franchise was a little too much for me and even though he was comic relief, it still got tiresome quickly. Gibson’s biggest strength right now is when he makes movies outside of the blockbuster films and focuses on more of a dramatic take while still delivering some quality action. His turn in the cop thriller Black and Bluer is what started to win me over a bit as he gave a solid performance as a normal man who is thrust inro an abnormal situation when he has to help a cop survive the night. Gibson played it straight and I think he’s found his calling although he can be humorous at times.

Now Tyrese stars in the new thriller The System which is nothing new when it comes to plots. Don ” The Dragon” Wilson did it. Jeff Wincott did it. Cynthia Rothrock did it. Billy Blanks did it. Just about every DTV martial arts star did it back in the day. It’s the underground fight circuit story and in a prison no less which has, yes, been done before. Scott Adkins did a master class in the subgenre with his Undisputed films most recently. Don’t read me wrong because I’ll watch these types of films all day but when they are done right like the aforementioned Mr. Adkins.

We’ve seen this trope over and over again with better results and here Gibson gets his chance to add his name to the stellar list of those before and gives another standout role in an action film that, well, gives us forgettable action sequences. The story centers on Tyrese who plays former special forces soldier Terry Savage (a great action film name if I do say so) who has fallen on hard times since leaving the service. To make matters worse, his little girl is very ill, and he has no money to pay for her further treatment. Desperate times call for you know what and savage infiltrates a drug house to steal money in hopes of paying the medical bills. What follows is a pretty decent beatdown sequence where he runs a gauntlet of pushers only to emerge from the house as cops descend on it in a raid. Bad luck indeed and Savage is arrested.

Luckily, the police commissioner has a job for Terry, and it involves going undercover into a prison run by a corrupt warden named Lucas (played by a scene stealing Jeremy Piven) and he must find evidence of corruption. The commissioner knows it’s happening, but he needs solid proof of what illegal dealings are going on. Savage reluctantly agrees as he is promised a full pardon for his troubles, so he goes in to access the situation.

Wouldn’t you know it, Lucas is running an underground fighting circuit (see, I told you the plot was generic) that flows throughout the corporate sponsored prisons in the state. Each prison has a “Top Dog” or champion in the fights and here it is Freeway played by veteran martial arts pro Marrese Crump. Freeway is the real deal and Savage is thrust into the game where he must square off against other inmates while dressed in black tactical gear while throwing down. You can pretty much guess the rest of the movie, but I’ll continue to give my thoughts.

The System was directed by Dallas Jackson who also gave us the much-maligned Sudden Death remake Welcome to Sudden Death with Michael Jai White. While that movie was burned by most fans, I did find it enjoyable, and White is solid as always while inflicting some grade A pain on the villains. With The System, Jackson directs another film with hand to hand set pieces but here they are mediocre at best and easily forgettable and fast paced but not in a good way. Most of the altercations are done before you blink, and we even get the cliche match where a foe shows off his extreme skills only to get taken out with one pinch by Savage. Yeah, you’ve seen it before and many times at that.

Gibson does well when it comes to the violent tendencies, and you can tell that he trained well for the part. During the low scale action beats, Gibson manages to look like he’s been fighting in these types of tourneys for years. No fault on his part but the failure here has to go to the budget as while the stunt team does an admirable job, you can tell that the money for this one just wasn’t there. The camera usage is as expected as when something is going on, it has to bounce around with the participants and what they are doing. i get it. They are trying to convey a hyper-kinetic feel to the scene, but don’t they know that keeping it steady on the choreography is what fans want. Given a more martial arts infused cast and they could have panned back and let the players fly but here, you know there are shortcomings, so they have to be clever to cover it up.

The supporting cast is prime however as you have Piven chewing up the scenery as Lucas. Piven is clearly having fun playing this revolting character and he does make you laugh at certain times like when he calls another warden Super Mario. Piven is even sporting villainous facial growth that would be worthy of a 70’s crime caper. I’ve always enjoyed Piven especially in Entourage and here, he definitely steals the show.

Terence Howard, who is fantastic in anything he plays in, co-stars as Bones. Once again here is another cliche as Bones is in jail for murder but it’s basically justified as he beat a pedophile to death. So right there you sympathize with him and of course he becomes mentor to Savage and trains him to survive the upcoming bouts he will be enduring.

Then there’s rapper Lil Yachty who like I’ve said before, I had no idea who he was. he gets top billing with the others, but I couldn’t pick him out if I passed him on the street. Sorry Lil Yachty.

I have a love/hate relationship with this film as the quiter moments are pretty damn good and Gibson and Howard have great chemistry together. Then there’s the drama with Savage’s daughter so right there is why you relate to him and want to see him survive and succeed in his mission. It’s the violent moments that are a letdown and the finale is, again, over before it starts.

Crump does get some opportunity to highlight his ferocious moves but here he is misused and his big fight with Savage is, you guessed it, over before it really starts to get good. We also have the obligatory riot at the end where Savage unites the inmates to take down Lucas and his corrupt guards, but I’ll be truthful in saying that I don’t really remember much of it. That’s not a good sign while you’re watching an action film. I will admit that there are some cool hits and cringe worthy moments during some fights and broken bones but not enough to save it for me.

Overall, The System isn’t horrible, and the drama is really heartfelt but it’s the rest of the movie that fumbles the ball at the one-yard line. There are numerous missed opportunities to be had when it comes to the action, and you’ll yawn when a lot of it is going on. The cast led by Gibson do a fine job with what they have but at the end of the day, The System suffers from the cliches and forgettable adrenaline which is sacrilegious when talking about action cinema. This is a classic case of the best parts are in the trailer and you might find more to love than I did but with this entry, it’s too little too late. The tagline for the film says, “there’s no mercy” and I was ready to tap out after 30 minutes. The Undisputed films with Scott Adkins did the underground prison fight circuit plot much, much better and with memorable action and jaw dropping choreography so instead of watching this one, put one of those on instead because compared to Undisputed, The System is in a weaker weight class.

Story: .5 Out of 2, Pacing: 1 Out of 2, Action: 1 Out of 2, Characters: 1.5 Out of 2, Overall Enjoyment: .5 Out of 2

Verdict: 4.5 Out of 10

The System Promises Brutal Beatdowns but Delivers Forgettable Action Mixed with Solid Drama. Watch Scott Adkins in the Undisputed films instead.

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