Never Back Down
He’s doing it as hard as he can.

Theatrical Release Date: 03/14/2008
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Cast: Sean Faris, Djimon Hounsou, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet

Word of advice to Javier Bardem – winning the Best Supporting Oscar doesn’t guarantee you success. See Cuba Gooding Jr. and Djimon Hounsou as your examples. Cuba’s done such great work as “Pearl Harbor” and “Boat Trip” (stay away from the water Cuba). Djimon did the awesomely craptactular “Biker Boys” and is now a featured element in “Never Back Down”.

What exactly does this film “Never Back Down” from? Well, first there’s the unshakable feeling that this is basically “Karate Kid” for the MMA generation. You’ve got a single mom, taking care of a kid who gets his ass kicked by a William Zabka knockoff with an equally unique name (Cam Gigandet).

What will our central character do? Well, he finds a master of the fighting arts to teach him the ways of asskickery, of course. And as luck would have it, there’s a tournament at which our hero is to prove his mettle. And (SPOILER) at the end of the film, the “bad kid” gains respect for the newcomer who kicks his ass.

All that was missing was a montage … wait a minute … not only is there a montage showing our lovable loser training and getting better – oh, no, we’re not done yet. After that training fails to help him beat the bully, there’s ANOTHER montage to show him getting EVEN better. Wooo! I’m exhausted just remembering all this montagery.

Before I get to knocking this film out like LL Cool J (do ladies still love cool James?), I will admit that the fighting was done decently. It’s not quite like watching real MMA, since in order to make the action entertaining, it can’t all be two guys wrestling on the ground for submission attempts. They need to connect with some telegraphed uppercuts and roundhouse kicks. That’s what makes for flashy and frenetic fighting for today’s film fanatics. But it was okay, which is more than I was expecting.

Also, the production value was decent and while I’ll get to dissecting this in a second, I do appreciate that they attempted to provide a rationale for why these teen male models had so much anger pent up inside of them.

One last bonus point, though, is that Amber Heard is hot. And in an effort to remind the audience of that, she doesn’t care for a lot of layers to her attire. However, in moving on to her character, it’s an epic fail from every angle (but the visual). The writing is laugh-out-loud terrible, her character swings her moods and motivations like a bi-polar monkey eating a cocaine-laced banana and if it weren’t for the costume designer refusing to keep her warm during night scenes, the character would have been more useless than me after a few bottles of wine and a handful of pills.

Getting back to the issue with their attempt to rationalize the violent tendencies, I do appreciate that each of the main characters (Faris & Gigandet) have their family issues on-screen. It’s clear why they resort to kicking the snot out of people. That doesn’t excuse the fact that the first few fights for Faris come from people knowing they can push his buttons by calling him out on how his alcoholic father died.

This was essentially “What’s the matter, McFly? Chicken?” and had me in stitches each time because it’s so over-the-top and terrible. Even just thinking back to those moments, I chuckle to myself and almost have a desire to go back for one more round of the film.

That is, until I remember one of the plot points that really gets my goat (and I love my goat). The method in which Faris’ character gains fame at his new high school is a video posted online showing him kicking the crap out of a guy at his old school during a football game.

I know that you need to move things along in a film to get the plot points covered but this instant internet fame/shame (used multiple times with different fights) gave me a chill. The girls see him kick butt on their phones and are instantly giving him “I’ll yank your crank” looks and the guys all of a sudden regard him as some mythical warrior. I can only hope it’s not completely like that in today’s high schools … otherwise this really is the fall of Rome.

Yet another nail in the coffin is the film’s ability to have some of the cheesiest and melodramatic music I can remember recently. Each time the scene calls for tenderness, cue the soft string section or piano; is there about to be a fight, get some rockin’ guitars going, dude; has our hero won the big fight, well then let’s play a victory ditty. Holy crap, if life had a soundtrack and this was it, the suicide rate would be somewhere close to 103%.

Getting back to Djimon Hounsou, there was an attempt to give his character some real gravitas. But this never comes to full fruition because the script isn’t going to win any awards (that writers want to win). He is a good actor but someone needs to give him pointers on how to pick a film. Aside from “Blood Diamond“, I can’t think of anything worth a damn since “Amistad” really (though I’m sure there has to be a few things … I hope).

I know you must be saying to yourself, how did this film manage to even get a 2 out of 5? Well, it’s because I really did have some fun watching it. “Never Back Down” isn’t going to place itself in the same breath as “Karate Kid” or any of the classic fighting movies … but it’s got that “Roadhouse” quality (minus the genius of Patrick Swayze of course) and I’ll admit that I’d give it another shot when it lands on my HDTV.

You’ll have to let your gut give you some guidance this time around, “Never Back Down” isn’t good in the general definition of the word. But even without alcohol, I was amused and at least entertained by its craptacularosity … which is more than I can say for some of the films in release right now.