Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the most nondescript movie title of the year: “Never Back Down.” The title could have applied to so many things – a Tom Petty biopic or an exposé of chiropractors – but instead the film is nothing more than an uninspired teenager fighting movie in the vein of “The Karate Kid.”
The plot reads like a shopping list. We’ve got a tough pretty-boy with anger issues named Jake Tyler (Sean Faris, “Yours, Mine and Ours”), who moves with his family from Iowa to Orlando. Suddenly, he’s the new kid in school and immediately attracts the attention of an attractive girl named Baja – yes, Baja (Amber Heard, “Alpha Dog”). She soon invites him to one crazy house party, complete with all the half-naked girls and “teen partying” that a PG-13 rating will allow. It’s at the party where Jake discovers the true passion of rich Orlando teens: secret underground fighting leagues where shirtless lads engage in homoerotic, no-holds-barred brawling. But don’t call them “fight clubs” because that term is probably trademarked.
Unsurprisingly, the inexperienced Jake gets the crap kicked out of him by local d-bag Ryan (Cam Gigandet, “Who’s Your Caddy?”). After being humiliated in front of the entire school, he swears he will never fight again . but, of course, it becomes a matter of honor, and he decides that maybe, just maybe, he can take Ryan down. All he needs is a training montage. Cue “Team America.”
It helps that the “wise grasshopper” role is played by Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond”). As the owner of the local gym, the Oscar-nominated actor shows why he’s the best guy around for playing tough, angry men. If the entire movie had consisted of Hounsou exploding in sweaty rage at all the other whiny characters, it would be one of the greatest films ever created.
Perhaps it’s not fair to judge “Never Back Down” by its plot, since the film was only intended to be a showcase for mixed martial arts fighting. Then again, the fight scenes aren’t good, either. Thanks to sloppy editing, suspense never builds during the brawls. After a while, all the fighting starts to look the same.
The biggest problem with “Never Back Down” is that, at its core, the movie is advocating hardcore fighting as an acceptable and necessary means of solving problems. Oh, sure, it tries to go all noble on us by giving each brawler a painful back stories, usually involving the absence of a good father figure (maybe there’s a connection somewhere). Here’s the kicker, though: At one point Jake randomly beats up a bunch of strangers on the side of the road because they honked their car horn one too many times. Instead of being charged with assault, Jake becomes a local hero as rumors of his strength circulate throughout the school. He never faces any negative consequences. Apparently the savage beat down is meant to be seen as a character test to prove that Jake ‘has what it takes.’ Does anyone else see a problem with this?
1 out of 5 stars.