MOVIE REVIEW- Fight feature: Wadlow's second film a manly movie
What a great 26th birthday present for Sean Faris– the release of Never Back Down, the latest movie in which he plays a high school student. Acting lessons would have been a more useful gift, but he acquits himself well enough, certainly better than in his TV series, Life as We Know It and Reunion. With a face that's Tom Cruise pretty, it's a miracle he doesn't lose any of his perfect teeth in the fight scenes.
Yes, fight scenes. Never Back Down celebrates the manly art of beating the crap out of your opponent. It shows I've been wrong all my life in believing violence doesn't solve anything. Lest anyone miss the metaphor, our hero's girlfriend tells him, "You're fighting so you don't have to fight again." (Sounds like, "We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them over here," doesn't it?)
The movie's roots go back at least as far as Rebel without a Cause, with brawling replacing drag racing as an outlet for our troubled teen hero, Jake Tyler (Sean Faris). He's been "angry all the time" since his drunken father died on his watch, and his mother (Leslie Hope) and little brother (Wyatt Smith) have had to keep moving with him. The latest move takes them from Iowa to Orlando, where "chicks wear bikinis year-round."
Like James Dean in Rebel, Jake builds his own family, with beautiful blonde Baja Miller (Amber Heard) and comic sidekick Max Cooperman (Evan Peters). It's Max who introduces Jake to Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou), a Senegalese Mr. Miyagi who runs a gym, 365 Combat Club. The first rule of Combat Club is that there's no fighting outside of Combat Club, but Roqua never explains why he's offering all this fight training, if it's not to be used.
To make Jake fight, one only has to speak ill of his late father. That got him going during his last football game in Iowa, and a video of the resulting skirmish preceded him to Orlando on the Internet. Now the local champion, Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet, who's 25 but looks 40) feels he has something to prove. "You wanna be the best," his father taught him, "you gotta take out the best." He mops the floor with Jake, whose "old school boxing" doesn't incorporate elements of kickboxing, wrestling and fighting dirty.
Their first encounter takes place at a party attended by more kids than go to school on an average day. They will obviously have to meet again at Beatdown, the annual championship of underground brawling. Like The Streets in Step Up 2 The Streets, the secret location is texted on a need-to-know basis so everyone winds up at the right place at the right time.
Director Jeff Wadlow underscores the action– and even the quiet scenes– with loud rock songs by the Bravery and others. Some actually have lyrics that relate to the story.
Damn my old school journalism classes for teaching me objectivity! While I deplore the attitude and message of Never Back Down and expect fights to break out in theaters where it's shown, I can't fault the skill that's gone into helping it achieve its modest aims.