Review: The Zoe Bell-starring ‘Raze’ is smart but monotonous

Zoe Bell plays a kidnapped woman who has to fight for her life in "Raze." Credit: IFC Midnight
Zoe Bell plays a kidnapped woman who has to fight for her life in “Raze.”
Credit: IFC Midnight

Director: Josh C. Waller
Stars: Zoe Bell, Rachel Nicols
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

For an exploitation movie about girls beating each other to death, “Raze” doesn’t want you to have a lot of fun. Stuntwoman-turned-actress Zoe Bell plays Sabrina, one of the 50 women kidnapped and placed in a literally underground fighting circuit. No one — save an excitable psycho (Rebecca Marshall) — wants to be there, yet each has to learn to murder, in the most gruesome way possible (that is, with their hands), to survive. If self-preservation isn’t motivation enough, the chipper organizers (Sherilyn Fenn and Doug Jones) have arranged a loved one to be held at gunpoint.

Each tussle features skilled choreography married to first-rate sound design, where every bone crunch blows out a subwoofer. But there’s no one to root for — that is, we’re rooting for everyone. We know Sabrina will survive because she’s the biggest name. (Though two of Bell’s “Death Proof” co-stars, Tracie Thoms and Rosario Dawson, fill smaller roles.) But if we’re human, we’re left merely wishing for the doomed one to perish quickly and as painlessly as possible. Escape doesn’t seem an option, given that they seem stuck in a moneyed and impregnable fortress.

“Raze” is, as they say, on the side of the angels. It’s a critique of fanboy action, giving us bloody one-on-ones where we can’t take sides. (Even so, it’s obviously building to Sabrina and the token aforementioned bad girl finally having at it.) And it’s proudly feminist, asking why we take so much delight in what are in effect catfights by removing all that’s allegedly pleasurable about them.

It’s still monotonous. “Raze” opens smartly and effectively, starting with a random woman being drugged and whisked away to the lair. There, this innocent woman, who has boasted of some kickboxing training, is shocked to find herself being wailed on by Sabrina, the person who will become our nominal “hero,” until she lacks a face. It’s a shocking way to start — but it also gives the game away right away. It’s brilliant and foolish, because after it there’s nowhere to go.

“Raze” tries to gradually parcel out its world, but it still feels small, and the business about blackmailing the contestants by threatening others never really gets properly explained. But that’s nothing compared to the ending, which is little more than fanboy service. You know the film has to go the direction that it does, but you wish it thought of a better out.

It’s too bad, not only because “Raze” is still a smart film, but because Bell is more than an fierce fighter. So open and appealing as herself in “Death Proof” — and a terrific double from “Xena: Warrior Princess,” where she got her start, to Quentin Tarantino’s films — she gets to play angry and hurt, barely able to contain herself as she pummels fellow innocents to various forms of pulp. May she live to hurt more people, even in films far less enlightened than “Raze.”


Woman dies when run over by bus at…

A woman at the Burning Man arts and culture festival in the Nevada desert died on Thursday when she was run over by a bus carrying participants.


Texas parents sue day care center for duct…

By Marice RichterDALLAS (Reuters) - A Texas couple has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a Fort Worth-area day care center seeking $1 million…


Santa Fe city council votes to decriminalize marijuana

By Joseph KolbALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - Santa Fe on Wednesday became the latest U.S. city to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, with lawmakers in the…


Egypt queries Mursi over documents "leaked" to Al…

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt is investigating jailed ex-president Mohamed Mursi in connection with documents that judicial investigators say were leaked to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…


Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.


Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."


Comedian Joan Rivers, 81, rushed to New York…

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acerbic comedian and fashion critic Joan Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Thursday after she reportedly…


3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.


NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.


Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.


Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.


Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…


4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…


Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…