Most movies about martial arts show the balance between the art form, restraint and self-defense. Never Back Down just shows how effectively you can beat someone up.
Imagine The Karate Kid crossed with an Ultimate Fighting Championship and a terrible case of Attention Deficit Disorder, and you’ve got Never Back Down, a movie that glorifies gratuitous fighting unlike any other in recent memory.
Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) is the star football player at an Iowa high school known as much for his strength and natural talent on the field as his predilection for trouble and fights off the field. When his family moves to Orlando, Florida, Jake’s world is turned upside down as he floats through affluence and beautiful girls like he’s never seen. His guide through all of this is Max Cooperman (Evan Peters) who introduces Jake to the world of underground mixed martial arts.
The big man on campus, Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet) doesn’t like that Jake is getting attention as a fighter, so he teaches Jake a lesson, giving a spectacular display of MMA skills and sadistic pleasure. In order to be any kind of match for Ryan, Jake begins training with an MMA master, Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou), who teaches Jake that revenge is the worst reason to take up fighting.
How does the film glorify violence? By only showing scenes in which the fight is about humiliating someone else or getting revenge on someone. Roqua says his students are not allowed to fight outside of the gym, but when Jake does, Roqua takes him back. The kids at school revere Ryan as a god because he is such a good fighter. Also, every fight in the movie ends up on YouTube and becomes an instant hit. Most movies about martial arts show the balance between the art form, restraint and self-defense. Never Back Down just shows how effectively you can beat someone up.
The acting across the board is about as stiff as you can get. Faris is boring as a leading man and only gets by on his good looks. McCarthy is doing his best Brad Pitt impression from Fight Club throughout the movie and doesn’t have a single original beat. Hounsou is fun to watch as usual, but he doesn’t add the weight to this movie that he usually does.
Director Jeff Wadlow is clearly trying to imitate the frenetic, fast-paced style of so many other movies and television shows that are aimed at teenagers. He doesn’t use any one style throughout the movie, so it feels disorienting and distracting.
Is Never Back Down fun to watch? Sure. The choreography comes from the guys who worked on The Bourne Ultimatum, but that’s the problem with the whole movie. There is nothing original, nothing unique to latch onto and say this is something good. Mindless entertainment is, at best, all that can be said about this movie.| Matthew F. Newlin
Visit the movie’s official website at http://neverbackdownthemovie.com