A review of the movie Aardvark, released by Revolver Entertainment, available on DVD and VOD January 28, 2014. Running Time: 81 minutes. DVD SRP: $19.98 Catalogue No. REVA1055· UPC: 8 29461 000400. Rated 1 out of 5.
No spoilers included
IT’S PERHAPS THE FIRST FICTIONAL FILM TO STAR A BLIND MAN SINCE BIRTH
A COMPELLING AND UNIQUE FILM ABOUT FRIENDSHIP, LONELINESS, AND LOYALTY
In a role inspired by his own life, Larry Lewis plays a blind man recovering from alcoholism. When Larry joins a Jiu-Jitsu academy he begins a friendship with his charismatic instructor, Darren. The two build a bond together that actually mirrors their real-life off-screen friendship.
But after a shocking incident occurs involving Darren, Larry goes on a search for answers fueled by his loyalty to his close friend.Aardvark is a film like no other, a narrative-documentary hybrid. It’s rooted in the reality of the protagonist’s lives, and it examines how far a man will go for doing what is right.
The movie centers around Larry, a blind alcoholic. It shows his life – in an office, at AA, and walking past a BJJ gym. He decides to start doing BJJ, and befriends the black belt, Darren. Darren turns out to be a bit of a sketchy guy, with some unclear but criminal goings-on. Darren introduces Larry to a stripper and they spend quite a bit of time at a strip club. More than halfway into the movie (46:00), something Really Bad happens to Darren and the cops are called in and Larry decides to seek revenge. The next part is him doing research on his revenge, then finally exacting said revenge.
I want to preface this review by quoting my old dating profile about which kinds of movies I like: Is there a space ship in it? Super heroes? Explosions? Bruce Willis? Did Joss Whedon direct it? I like my movies entertaining, and they need not be “good” to do so. Yes, I loved Expendables 2.
What I liked about Aardvark: It was cool seeing a brown belt doing BJJ in a movie. There were some really cool flow-rolling shots when they introduced the jiu jitsu, and it was really neat getting to see good jiu jitsu showcased. They also showed a belt whipping! It also had a BJJ sales pitch in it – when Darren is selling jiu jitsu to Larry. I could see showing pieces of this to people to show what a jiu jitsu class looks like – that felt very realistic. It also made me want to look up Larry and Darren.
Aardvark was nothing like Expendables 2. It was not particularly enjoyable for me due to pacing, characters, and plot.
Pacing: I generally prefer tv shows to movies is because of the faster pacing. Aardvark had many establishing shots of Larry walking across the street, through a forest, etc. It’s something I can’t appreciate, and it felt too slow for me.
Characters: I was confused by Darren’s relationships in the movie. He had a sketchy friend who presented lover-like jealousy over Darren training with Larry, but it was never explained why. The stripper character and all the stripclub scenes were uncomfortable. At one point I actually got physically angry – there is a scene later in the movie where Larry convinces the stripper to let him into her apartment, despite her clear NOs. He then mounts on top of her while she is screaming, physically dominates her and keeps saying things like “This will be a lot easier if you relax.” I just didn’t connect with or care for any of the characters, nor did I understand their relationships.
Plot: I couldn’t understand what this movie was trying to do. I don’t know why the movie is called Aardvark, nor why it opened with Larry in the forest. There was a scene set at an AA meeting, but this was not really referred to later. It might be the movie style – “narrative-documentary” in which it felt more character driven than plot driven. Ultimately the narrative was unclear to me and left me feeling confused at various points.
Disclosure and thanks
Disclosure: Michael from Revolver Entertainment invited me to watch, review this film in time for its release, and post it on my site. I have no other connection to them, nor did they solicit a specific type of review. I was not paid for this review.
Thanks: A huge thank you to Michael for the opportunity to review this movie. My hope is that this review comes across as thoughtful, albeit negative, which hopefully people will find helpful. Even though it wasn’t my particular cup of tea, I’m excited to get the word out about a movie that features jiu jitsu that is done in a positive light, and I’m sure others will enjoy it.
If you decide to see Aardvark, please stop by and write your thoughts on the movie here. If you include spoilers, please begin your post with “Spoilers Included!”
I will definitely give this a watch once it hits Netflix or Amazon Prime streaming
Ya know, when I saw this I was super curious to find out how they connected BJJ and aardvarks…but alas…nothing. Maybe “aardvark” is a reference to AA? (can’t think of many other words with double As)
Oh, I was lucky to see this movie too! I will add a longer comment on it tomorrow.
I will watch any film/TV show that includes BJJ, so even if this is absolutely terrible, I’ll still watch it (which is how I found myself watching Home & Away religiously for several episodes when they had a BJJ instructor, though the script writers seemed to have very little idea of what BJJ actually is). Having said that, I think I’m among the few people who thought Redbelt was ok, so I’m not hard to please. Also, my favourite live-action (generally, I prefer animation, hence why I make the distinction) is Conan the Barbarian, so that kinda says it all. 😉
The genre of BJJ film, or even grappling film in general, remains quite small. I welcome any additions, as even if they’re bad, I still find them interesting from a cultural perspective. E.g., the MMA included on one of the earliest films to feature the sport, Virtuosity (1995), is completely ridiculous but perhaps reveals something about the perspective on MMA at the time of release. It makes for an interesting contrast with Warrior (2011), which I think shows how far MMA has come in the public’s estimation since then.
How about Brazilian Brawl? 😀
About Aardvark: this movie is pretty awkward (aardvark?), yes. I still think every bjj folk should see it, as it is strong in bjj part. I even had an occasion to talk with the director personally. I believe he said something among the lines of “I just thought it sounds nice” when asked about the title of his creation lol. I’m surpised that it only made it to the DVD as I had seen it like 3 years ago. Funny thing is, I competed just a day before in a local tournament 🙂
Home and Away had a BJJ instructor? I’ll have to check that out!
I thought Redbelt was a decent one-off watch. I doubt I’d watch it again though. I have simple tastes in movies – I actually really enjoy the entire The Fast and The Furious franchise (so hearing about Paul Walker being a BJJ practitioner made the news of his death doubly sad for me).
Thanks for this review Jiu Jiu – the description of the movie on Amazon just says “Jiu Jitsu”, not BJJ, so I’d have dismissed this movie out of hand as being traditional martial arts if it wasn’t for your review explicitly stating otherwise. Now I’m tempted to give it a look.
The director & Keebler (I hope I got the name right) did a pretty good interview about the movie on the inside BJJ podcast episode 114. I’ll pay the $4 on amazon just to support a BJJ flick.
Just an update – I rented this on Amazon Instant Video (I don’t mind taking a chance for $4) and was pretty impressed. I agree the plot is a bit oddly paced (it seems to set a lot of stuff up then just rush at the end), but it’s worth watching just for the BJJ. I’ll be buying a physical copy as soon as I get paid!
I’m really impressed to see a movie made by people with geniune passion for the sport.
I’m so glad to hear it! I read a better review than mine, where it said that the characters are interesting and you want to get to know both Darren and Larry, but once the “dark plot” gets introduced it feels forced and unnatural – that’s really how it felt to me as well.
I agree, though – it was cool to help support a product by people who do and love jiu jitsu.