starring Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, Zulay Henao
written by Dito Montiel & Robert Munic
directed by Dito Montiel
original release date: 24 April 2009
Rogue Pictures, 105 mins.
What the Frak?
This year's Never Back Down is a jumbled mess of bad performances, a even weaker and lazy script, and crappy editing leaving every scene rather awkward. The only redeeming quality of this poor production is one fight sequence and an attractive female co-star, although her beauty barely makes up for her lacking the ability to do a little thing called "acting." Fighting is officially the first really bad movie of 2009 in my book.
But how did that happen? The trailers made it look right up my ally. Never Back Down may not have been the best bloody thing since The Karate Kid, but it at lest had a fairly well-about script with some likable cast members with actual chemistry; Fighting is its opposite.
Shawn McArhur (Tatum) is living a rather meaningless life, selling relative junk on street corners for $20 a item, but a brawal with a customer catches the eye of businessman Harvey Boarden (Howard), who propositions Shawn with this idea: give people a fight, and you get some damn fine mullah money. There's also two subplots that rip through the film: a romantic story between Shawn and a waitress he meets by chance named Zulay (Henao); and a old acquaintance of Shawn's who is connected to a shady part of his past that Shawn would rather stay hidden.
As the official synopsis reads, Shawn "sets out to win the prize money at stake and the respect of those around him." Well, the first part is true. Shawn's in it all for the money, pretty much because he has none of his own. But respect? The way he's written and portrayed, respect has nothing to do with it - in fact, he doesn't even seem to give a damn about respect. What happens in the film is wish fulfillment for Shawn - he want hot waitress girl: check; he want money: check; he want to fight: check. There's no real motivation for the character other than the paycheck, and no genuine motivation for the audience to give a damn about what he does. Win or lose, I didn't care. Frankly, I wouldn't of minded if a fight ended Resevoir Dogs-style, with everybody shooting each other out of greed for money.
My friend who accompanied me to the screening didn't like the flick, but forgave it because of - wait for it - Channing Tatum. It's an unfortunate acting choice for Tatum, who earned my respect in 2008's Stop-Loss; but his performance here is nothing more than a complete rehash of his Step Up character, complete with his ghetto clothing and his constant stuttering and usage of "man" and "y'know" in a sentence. Sure, it's probably a deliberate choice of the actor and script writers to ground everything in some sort of reality, but it just becomes annoying. For further evidence of what I mean, consult that corrupt cop drama bust Pride and Glory (2008). The blow to one's performance is lessened by Terrence Howard (Iron Man), but just barely. He does something to his voice that made me think about Zorba the Hutt in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), who had an uncanny vocal resemblance to a one Truman Capote. Hands down, Terrence was distracting. However, the worst performance offender of them all is Zulay Henao (who goes by Zulay in the film, too; how fortuitous), who has no acting range and absolutely zero chemistry with her co-stars. When I said that there was awkward editing, I example this claim with every scene involving these two; their first half-date was about the most awkward date I've ever seen on film, and this counts the Cook/Hudson paring in My Best Friend's Girlfriend. Zulay didn't even seem remotely interested in Shawn, and really, why should she? Nothing worthwhile other than his supposed "charm" (which comes across more as a 20-year old with intelligence developmental problems) and hot bod. Was Jenna Dewan too expensive to hire now that she's a famous actress? Wait...
Montiel's directing style seems to want to invoke a realistic tone to this overly hyper-realistic title, where impossible plot developments occur in a relatively short period of time, by emulating the ever-popular shaky camera style most publicized by Paul Greengrass with his Bourne titles. It's possible he's trying to cover up the fact that he doesn't have a good movie on his hands by attempting to "bring you" into the drama and action. However, he fails in this regard. It's just...boring. And for a movie that's sole purpose is fighting, as explained by a title unmatched in obviousness since Snakes on a Plane (2006), that's quite the achievement. Except, y'know, a negative achievement, but here's looking at the bright side.
The script - ugh, save me. For a movie that should be so simple ("Me want fight"), I was confused here and there about what the hell was happening, and why were certain things happening. Example A, and one that I know I've used but it bugs me that much: the romance between Zulay and Shawn. There simply was no romance, no chemistry. The way it's written, Shawn rubs off as a stalker, not too far from "dream boy" Edward in Twilight. Their first half-date is entirely awkward, and Zulay invites him to her apartment on the second, er, 'date'. No wonder he likes the girl: she's easy. Example B, the entirety of the Harvey/Shawn relationship - I don't buy it for a second. Perhaps the best thing to be said about Tatum and Howard is that they come across as genuine friends, but by all means, the script doesn't sell it. Initially, Shawn doesn't like Harvey, but once Harvey offers the dollars, all is well in this friendship. Riiiigggghhtt. Example C, the dyanmic between Harvey and his ex-friends is poorly portrayed and explained. I wish that subplot was scrapped entirely.
The final and worst offender - the fighting. It blows. If there's one aspect this movie's supposed to kick ass in, it's the fighting. There are four fights if memory serves me right, and two of the fights are hardly watchable due to Montiel's incompetent handheld direction which randomly zooms around and loses a good chunk of the action and makes it indistinguishable. The best fight is between Tatum and martial arts star Cung Le: that was some awesome, intense stuff. The final battle, predictable on all accounts (I was even able to predict how much the match would be worth), between the two frenemies is decent and kinda cool, but suffers from the same dodgy camerawork and editing.
Perhaps the best part of the Fighting experience was watching trailers for Quentin Tarantino's fourth motion picture Inglourious Basterds, the new Sam Raimi horror flick Drag Me To Hell (I'm totally there for the midnight showing), Judd Apatow's third film Funny People (I'm 50/50 about this title), and a relatively un-hyped heist/corrupt cop flick called Armored with Laurence Fishburne as the most recognizable actor.
In the end, do I recommend Fighting? No. There's far better titles involving people kicking other people's asses. If you must absolutely see this title, or are coerced by a girlfriend who has a unhealthy obsession towards Mr. Tatum, I implore you wait for a DVD rental, it's not worth the hard-earned dough and trying to piece together lazy plot points. Piss-poor presentation is nearly all areas of the creative development of this movie puts Fighting the first most deserving title to recieve the newly-instated rating of What the Frak? Honor it well, director Montiel.