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'Redbelt'

In this quasi-inspirational martial-arts drama, the scuzzes and scumbags — usually front and center in David Mamet movies — play supporting roles to the principled guy who'd normally be their patsy. Inspiration? From Mamet? Well yes, in a manner of speaking.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is Mike Terry, the aphorism-spouting proprietor of a martial-arts school, whose mantra in a fight-to-win profession is "fight to prevail." Mike's a compulsive do-gooder, out to help (a) a manic woman with drug issues (Emily Mortimer), (b) a police officer with control issues (Max Martini), (c) a wife with money issues (Alice Braga) and (d) a self-destructive Hollywood celeb with self-image issues (Tim Allen). As you might imagine, this leads to a plot line that feels as scattered as it is overthought.

With Mamet regulars Ricky Jay (as a fight promoter) and Joe Mantegna (as his crooked lawyer) haunting the story's fringes and sputtering in the writer-director's patented brand of street-speak, the film is never dull. But Mamet isn't terribly comfortable with the Rocky-style big-fight finish his plot requires — and in trying to finesse it, he's left his film fighting to prevail over a finale that's at once implausible and clumsy.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.