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Originally published Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'Like Water': Getting in the ring with fighters, but not in their heads

A movie review of "Like Water," an underachieving, largely dull documentary that concerns events leading up to a bout between Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight king Anderson Silva and a loudmouth challenger from Portland.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 1.5 stars

'Like Water,' with Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen, Steven Seagal. Directed by Pablo Croce, from a screenplay by Ramon Lemos, Lyoto Machida, Damaso Pereira and Ed Soares. 84 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In English and Portuguese, with English subtitles. Oak Tree.

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Yes, that is Steven Seagal popping up in the margins of "Like Water," a tepid, superficial sports documentary about Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight king Anderson Silva. At one point, Silva bows to the one-time star of big-screen action movies and reverently calls him "sensei," though neither man mentions they will appear together in a less-solemn 2012 Budweiser commercial.

First-time filmmaker Pablo Croce has the dubious task of tracking the extensive training of Brazil-born Silva, a longtime UFC belt-holder, as he prepares to defend his title against a loudmouth challenger from Portland, Ore., named Chael Sonnen. There are elements of interesting drama in this story, but the film isn't shaped well enough to make them compelling.

For one thing, Silva's reputation is on the ropes when "Like Water" begins. Ultimate Fighters are mixed-martial-arts types who — as we see in this film — possess warrior skills but often end up looking like 12-year-old boys in a schoolyard brawl, limbs entangled and pawing desperately at each other's heads.

It's silly, but UFC fans want to see pain, injuries and blood.

Silva's strategy in the ring, by contrast, is to find a way to win, not necessarily to engage an opponent every moment. He faces much criticism, before the fight with Sonnen, for avoiding physical contact. Sonnen frequently trash-talks Silva with a weird edge suggesting something isn't right about this wannabe champ. (We later learn Sonnen has a drug issue.)

One wants to get into the heads and lives of these fighters as people, but Croce is more attentive to the mechanics of training sessions, news conferences, fan encounters and UFC management. We do get a general impression of Silva as a family man who rises above some of the nonsense in his sport, but that alone doesn't justify a film.

Tom Keogh:

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